Monday’s report included information from more than 200 interviews, detailing the alleged abuse and revelations involving those at the highest level at National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). The report also accuses the United States Soccer Federation — the U.S. governing body of the sport — of failing to respond, and in some cases concealing misconduct.
“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,” lead investigator Sally Q. Yates wrote in the report’s executive summary. “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.”
The report found that the leaders involved expressed more concern about avoiding lawsuits from coaches and the finances of the league rather than the players. This allowed predatory coaches to continue their abuse as they moved between teams.
The investigation sprung from stories in The Athletic and The Washington Post last year, which reported players’ allegations of sexual and verbal abuse made against coaches. In the wake of the news, players protested, games were postponed, and the fallout included league executives resigning or being fired. The U.S. soccer commissioned Yates — a former deputy attorney general now at law firm King & Spalding — to investigate.
The report lists several findings, among them a failure to put basic measures for player safety in place; systemic abuse; a failure to address reports and evidence of misconduct; a culture of abuse, silence, and fear of retaliation perpetuated the misconduct, and a lack of job security for players and protection from retaliation.
The players’ union hailed the players who shared their stories for the report for their courage and bravery. “These stories have inspired us to engage in collective action to bring about change,” the union wrote. “By sharing their stories, Players are reclaiming the league and the sport.”
The report also outlined a series of recommendations for U.S. Soccer to adopt, such as publicly listing those who have been disciplined, suspended or banned from the league; requiring investigations into abuse accusations; properly vetting coaches; establishing clear policies and rules pertaining to behavior and conduct; hiring safety officers, and more.
“Establishing trust and confidence between the League, its players, and other key stakeholders remains a central focus for the NWSL, and we know that we must learn from and take responsibility for the painful lessons of the past in order to move the League into a better future,” NWSL said in a statement, adding that the findings “will be critical to informing and implementing systemic reform and ensuring that the NWSL is a league where players are supported, on and off the pitch, with safe and professional environments to train and compete.”