An Investigation Uncovered Rampant Systemic Abuse and Misconduct in American Women's Professional Soccer

The findings span more than 200 interviews across the National Women’s Soccer League.

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On Monday, an independent investigation led by former acting attorney general Sally Q. Yates reported systemic abuse and misconduct in the National Women's Soccer League in the United States. The report brought together testimony from 200 players, coaches, and support staff and found that there were widespread instances of inappropriate behavior, sexual misconduct, and abuse. The investigation comes in the wake of The Athletic's explosive report on the allegations of sexual coercion and misconduct filed against Paul Riley, who was head coach of three different NWSL franchises across eight seasons. He was eventually fired from the North Carolina Courage, but continues to deny the accusations. 

"Our investigation has revealed a league (NWSL) in which abuse and misconduct — verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct — had become systemic, spanning multiple teams, coaches, and victims," the report states. "Abuse in the NWSL 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."

At the time of Riley's dismissal and continued investigations into complaints and allegations across the league, then-NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird resigned. As the season continued, half of the league's teams fired their coaches after players came forward with complaints.

"In well over 200 interviews, we heard report after report of relentless, degrading tirades; manipulation that was about power, not improving performance; and retaliation against those who attempted to come forward," the report continues. "Even more disturbing were the stories of sexual misconduct. Players described a pattern of sexually charged comments, unwanted sexual advances and sexual touching, and coercive sexual intercourse."

Following the release of the findings, the NWSL stated that it would review the filing.

"We recognize the anxiety and mental strain that these pending investigations have caused and the trauma that many — including players and staff — are having to relive," it said in a statement.

Complaints state that coaches with known histories of sexual misconduct were allowed to move from team to team within the league, even with their actions being "open secrets" among players and administration. 

Yates's report recommends that the general public have access to a "list of individuals disciplined, suspended, or banned by USSF, a USSF Organization Member, or SafeSport." A statement from US Soccer noted that with the release of the full report on Monday, "victim privacy and confidentiality" would be maintained throughout. 

The National Women's Soccer League Players Association commended players for coming forward to speak about their experiences, noting that it was not an easy decision for anyone involved.

"As difficult as this report is to read, it has been even more painful for Players, whether known or unknown, to live it. We appreciate their efforts to seek the truth in support of our work to transform NWSL," the association said.

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