The year-long investigation by former acting attorney general Sally Keough Yates found that some of the game’s top coaches were subjected to numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, including some that had not been previously reported. Yates found that coaches also relied on sinister coaching tactics, including “cruel and degrading rhetoric; manipulation that was about strength, not performance; and revenge against those who tried to advance.”
“Players described a pattern of sexually charged comments, unwanted sexual advances and sexual contact, and forced sexual intercourse,” Yates wrote in the executive summary of her report.
“Our investigation revealed an association in which abuse and misconduct—verbal, emotional abuse and sexual misconduct—became systematic, involving many teams, coaches, and victims,” the report read. “Abuse in the Women’s NFL is rooted in a deeper culture in women’s football, beginning with the youth leagues, which normalizes verbally abusive training and blurs the boundaries between coaches and players. NWSL players describe verbal and emotional abuse. It’s not just ‘hard’ training. And the affected players don’t shrink violets. They are among the best athletes in the world.”
Yates also discovered that power brokers in the sport had repeatedly failed players by ignoring red flags and dismissing complaints. Both the NWSL and US Soccer appear to have prioritized concerns about legal exposure to litigation by coaches…. over the player’s safety and well-being.”
“[T]They have also failed to put in place basic measures to prevent and treat it, even as some leaders privately acknowledge the need to protect the workplace,” the report states. “As a result, abusive coaches moved from team to team, and were washed away by press releases thanking them for their service.”
While numerous allegations of abuse and misconduct have been made public in media reports, the Yates report opened with a previously undisclosed allegation relating to Christy Holly, the formerly-mentioned coach of Racing Louisville FC. According to the report, Holly requested a one-on-one movie session with player Erin Simon in April 2021.
“I knew what to expect,” the report stated. “When I arrived, I remembered Holly had opened my laptop and started the game movie.”
Coach Simon told him he intended to touch her for every bad pass, Yates reported, and “push his hands down her pants and lift her shirt.”
“She tried to hold her legs tight and push him away, laughing to avoid angering him,” the report read. The video ended and I left. When her teammate took her home, Simon broke down in tears.”
According to the report, the Louisville organization refused to assist investigators with any information related to Holly’s employment, citing nondisclosure and non-dispersal agreements signed with Holly. Louisville fired Holly suddenly on August 30, 2021, but did not disclose the circumstances surrounding his dismissal. “As a result, Holly’s misconduct has remained largely unknown, including to anyone who might seek to hire him as a coach,” the report states.
“There are many athletes who continue to suffer in silence because they fear no one will help or hear them. I know that because that’s how I felt,” Simon said in a statement on Monday.
The report was based on interviews with more than 200 people, including more than 100 players, as well as coaches, owners and front office staff from 11 current and former teams. But Yates’ team faced several obstacles.
The report says Louisville has prevented current and former employees from speaking with investigators about Holly. According to the report, the Portland Thorns, whose coach Paul Riley has been accused of abusing players, “interfered with our access” to witnesses and “raised misleading legal arguments in an attempt to impede our use of relevant documents.” The report states that the Chicago Red Stars, whose coach, Rory Dames, has been accused of abusing professional and youth players, “unnecessarily delayed the production of related documents over the course of nearly nine months”. Some witnesses, such as Jeff Bluch, a former NWSL commissioner, did not respond to investigators.
The report focuses heavily on Holly, Riley and Dams, and recounts allegations of sexual misconduct, abusive behavior and coercive tactics.
During his time as coach of the Thorns, Riley “sexually stalked the player” Miliana Shim for several months, the report states, ” [her] After I rejected his advances.” The team investigated, and the NFL was aware of the allegations, but was allowed to leave the team and take on another league coaching job without the offender becoming public. The report also details the sexual relationship, First mentioned by Athleticwhich Riley allegedly had with another player, Sinead Farrelly, and noted that the NWSL failed to investigate a complaint she filed in 2021.
US Soccer and NWSL were aware of anonymous player polls dating back to 2014 in which players said Riley was “verbally abusive” and “sexually abusive.”[t]Neither organization took any action on these complaints, according to the report, which describes Riley’s behavior — which allegedly included grooming behavior, late-night texts with players, and flirtatious comments — as open secret.
Shim’s complaint was received in 2015, and American football received further warnings about Riley in 2018 and 2019, when he was under consideration for a position as the coach of the United States women’s national team.
Yates found that the NWSL received a series of four complaints about Riley in the spring of 2021. “The league has largely ignored the complaints, and instead, weeks before The Athletic article was published, NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird was actively trying to prevent Riley from resigning,” the report said. His anger at the post-season schedule.”
Player polls in 2014 and 2015 also included allegations that the ladies were “abusive” and “unprofessional,” warning that players “would not be honest out of fear,” according to the report. National team players complained to former NFL president Sunil Gulati and former national team coach Jill Ellis that the women “created a hostile environment for players.”
But when the comments were shared with Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler, he said the national team players wanted to “close this league” and simply had an “axe to grind” with the ladies,” according to the report. He abruptly quit Red Stars last November, two days after Training for the NWSL title match, as The Post gets ready to publish A story detailing the players’ allegations against him. The ladies didn’t face any background check, according to Yates’ report, though they did Allegations of misconduct as a youth coach in the 1990s.
Holly was also allowed to pursue another coaching job despite previous allegations of abuse. He was forced to leave Sky Blue Football Club in the middle of the 2016 season due to “verbal abuse” and “his relationship with a player,” according to the report. But details were never made public, and Holly went on to do contract work for American football, training with the Under-17 and Under-23 teams.
This experience helped Holly land a coaching job in Louisville in 2020, where, according to a Yates report, he “repeated the same pattern of misconduct.”
The report says he sent candid photos to Simon. He asked her to come to his house to review the game movie, and “show her porn instead, masturbating in front of her eyes before leaving,” the report said.
“The results of this investigation are heartbreaking and deeply disturbing,” US Soccer President Cindy Barlow-Cohn said in a statement. “The abuse described is unjustifiable and has no place in any stadium, in any training facility or workplace.”
The NWSL abuse scandal exploded in the public eye last year after reports in The Post and The Athletic prompted players to demand action from football officials. Matches canceled, five of the 10 league coaches quit or sacked Baird, a former commissioner of the National Women’s Federation, resigned.. In the aftermath, NFL hired Bates and her law firm, King & Spalding, in October 2021 to investigate.
The NFL and Players Association separately retained the law firm Covington & Burling to investigate the matter. Preliminary findings from that investigation already underway have led to the temporary suspension of Houston coach James Clarkson, Orlando coach Amanda Cromwell and Orlando assistant coach Sam Green.
The Yates report points to several systemic problems that have served as barriers for players to report abuse: The league did not have an anti-harassment policy until last year. Most teams lack an HR department. There was no independent, anonymous reporting sequence until last fall. And neither the league nor American football had anyone on staff responsible for the safety of the players.
The report also highlighted cultural issues still prevalent in women’s football, starting at the youth level. The report states that players, coaches and staff were “conditioned to accept and respond to abusive coaching behavior as young players”. By the time they reach a professional level, many do not realize that the behavior is abusive.”
Moreover, he noted that the league did not adopt an anti-fraternity policy until 2018, and that the intimate relations between coaches and players are “normal”. She pointed out that coaches such as Riley, Dams and Holly have all married former players.
Yates’ report includes a series of recommendations, although it notes that American football has limited authority over the league and team operations. The report urges teams to accurately disclose and explain misconduct to prevent other teams from hiring coaches, and suggests that US Soccer be better involved in its licensing process, which could help “weed out problem coaches.”
American football should ask the NFL to conduct timely investigations into allegations of misconduct, and league and team employees should be asked to participate. The report also recommends training of players, coaches and roles assigned to player safety at the team, league and federation levels.
The report did not make recommendations on hiring, noting that Riley, Ladies and Holly have all exited the NWSL. But Yates urged American football to take steps “to prevent their future participation in the NFL scene.”
Likewise, both US Soccer and NWSL have new leadership teams, but the report notes that several team owners are still in power. “Consequently, we recommend that NWSL, which has governing power over NWSL teams, their owners, and employees, determine whether disciplinary action is appropriate for any such team owners or executives, in light of our findings and the findings of the NWSL/NWSLPA joint investigation,” it said. the report.
A NWSL spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
US Soccer said it will immediately begin work to implement Yates’ recommendations. The organization will set up a participant safety office, publish records from the SafeSport database and enforce minimum standards for background checks from youth football through the sport’s highest standards. It will also create a committee that will focus on implementing these recommendations, chaired by former USWNT player Danielle Slatton, with an action plan scheduled by the end of January 2023.
“American football and the entire football community must do better, and I have confidence that we can use this report and its recommendations as a critical turning point for every organization tasked with ensuring that Player safety. We have a lot of work to do, and we are committed to doing that work and driving change across the entire football community.”
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