Investigation Finds ‘Systemic’ Emotional Abuse and Sexual Misconduct of Players in U.S. Women’s Soccer

The Portland Thorns and Houston Dash paused their match last October to honor sexual abuse survivors and protest the league’s handling of complaints. (Credit…Soobum Im/USA Today Sports, via Reuters)

One coach called in a player to review game film and showed her pornography instead. Another was notorious at the highest levels of women’s soccer for alternately berating his players and then quizzing them about their sex lives.

A third coach coerced multiple players into sexual relationships, behavior that one top team found so disturbing that it fired him. But when he was hired by a rival team only a few months later, the original club, which had documented his behavior in an internal investigation, said nothing. Instead, it publicly wished him well in his new post.

Those details and others fill a highly anticipated investigative report into abuse in women’s soccer that found sexual misconduct, verbal abuse and emotional abuse by coaches in the game’s top tier, the National Women’s Soccer League, and issued warnings that girls face abuse in youth soccer as well.

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The report was published Monday, a year after players outraged by what they saw as a culture of abuse in their sport demanded changes by refusing to take the field. It found that leaders of the N.W.S.L. and the United States Soccer Federation — the governing body of the sport in America — as well as owners, executives and coaches at all levels failed to act on years of voluminous and persistent reports of abuse by coaches.

All were more concerned about being sued by coaches or about the teetering finances of women’s professional soccer than player welfare, according to the report, creating a system in which abusive and predatory coaches were able to move freely from team to team at the top levels of women’s soccer.

“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,” Sally Q. Yates, the lead investigator, wrote in the report’s executive summary. “Abuse in the N.W.S.L. 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.”

Last year, U.S. Soccer commissioned Yates, a former deputy attorney general, and the law firm King & Spalding to look into the sport after reports in The Athletic and The Washington Post detailed accusations of sexual and verbal abuse against coaches in the women’s league. After the news media reports, and after games were postponed as furious players protested publicly, league executives resigned and were fired. Within weeks, half of the 10-team league’s coaches had been linked to allegations of abuse, and some of the world’s top players had recounted their own stories of mistreatment.

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Kevin Draper

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