An independent probe into U.S. women's professional soccer found systemic abuse across the sport, with players alleging sexual, verbal and emotional misconduct by coaches that were repeatedly ignored by the league and federation.
The report released Monday concludes the abuse at times was viewed as normal behavior because of practices entrenched in the game throughout the sport, starting at the youth level.
"Our investigation has revealed a league in which abuse and misconduct — verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct — had become systemic, spanning multiple teams, coaches, and victims," an executive summary stated. "Abuse in the [National Women's Soccer League] is rooted in a deeper culture in women's soccer, beginning in youth leagues, that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players."
The U.S. Soccer Federation retained former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Q. Yates to lead an inquiry that followed reports last year of sexual misconduct by male coaches in the NWSL, which is conducting its own investigation that's yet to be completed.
In the report, Yates described consistent missteps by teams, the league and the federation after they were told about and provided evidence of abuse allegations from its earlier years through 2021.
"Abusive coaches moved from team to team, laundered by press releases thanking them for their service, and positive references from teams that minimized or even concealed misconduct," the report charged. "Those at the NWSL and USSF in a position to correct the record stayed silent. And no one at the teams, the League, or the Federation demanded better of coaches."
The report highlights three high-profile cases, the most prominent of which involves former coach Paul Riley, who faced allegations of sexual misconduct every year between 2015 and 2021.
Riley, who denied the allegations, was fired as head coach of the North Carolina Courage, and NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird stepped down.
The probe also looked at former coaches Christy Holly of Racing Louisville and Rory Dames of the Chicago Red Stars.
It recounts an April 2021 encounter between Holly and a player, Erin Simon, who now plays in Europe. Holly invited her to watch game film with him and allegedly told her that for every pass she messed up, he was going to touch her. Simon told investigators Holly "pushed his hands down her pants and up her shirt."
Simon, now with Leicester City, said too many athletes suffer in silence because they are afraid they won't be heard.
"I know because that is how I felt," the 28-year-old said in a statement. "Through many difficult days, my faith alone sustained me and kept me going. I want to do everything in my power to ensure that no other player must experience what I did. This report allows our voices to finally be heard and is the first step toward achieving the respectful workplace we all deserve."
Holly was terminated for cause but Racing Louisville declined to publicly state the reason. Yates' report noted that Racing did not provide investigators with details about Holly's employment, citing mutual nondisclosure and non-disparagement clauses.
U.S. Soccer said its board of directors and a leadership team would immediately begin implementing the report's recommendations.
"U.S. Soccer and the entire soccer community have to do better, and I have faith that we can use this report and its recommendations as a critical turning point for every organization tasked with ensuring player safety," Parlow Cone said. "We have significant work to do, and we're committed to doing that work and leading change across the entire soccer community."
More than 200 people were interviewed by investigators. Some two dozen entities and individuals provided documents. U.S. Soccer also provided documents and the firm reviewed 89,000 deemed likely to be relevant.
U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone called the findings "heartbreaking and deeply troubling."
Yates included recommendations with her report to require disclosure among teams, the league and the federation about misconduct by coaches, as well as meaningful vetting and timely investigations and clear policies.
She also proposed that the soccer federation "consider whether the current capital requirements for the NWSL owners are sufficient to ensure all owners are financially committed to the NWSL and are providing a professional environment that is safe and respectful of players," and examine if additional measures were needed to protect youth players.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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