An independent investigation into the scandals that rocked the American Women’s Soccer League has revealed emotional and sexual abuse in sports involving multiple teams, coaches and players, according to a report released Monday.
“The abuse in the NWSL (abbreviated in English form of league) responds to the culture inherent in women’s football, which comes from youth leagues, which normalizes verbal abuse by coaches and blurs the boundaries between coaches and players. Sally Q. Yates, the federal government’s former deputy attorney general, wrote in her report on the investigation.
The US Soccer Federation ordered an investigation by Yates and the law firm King & Spaulding after Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, former NWSL players, were victims of sexual assault and coercion a decade earlier, involving former technician Paul Riley. His complaints were published by The Athletic in September 2021.
Riley, who denied the allegations, was promptly fired as manager of the North Carolina Courage, and NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird resigned.
But it became clear that the problems were widespread. Last season, five out of 10 NWSL coaches were fired or resigned over allegations of misconduct.
“The verbal and emotional abuse that players describe in the NWSL is not just ‘seriousness’ from the coach. And the affected players are not fragile. They are among the best athletes in the world,” wrote Yess.
Investigators questioned more than 200 people. More than 20 entities and individuals provided the documentation. The federation also submitted documents and the law firm reviewed 89,000 that were deemed relevant.
Federation president Cindy Parlow Coen described the findings as “heartbreaking and very worrying”.
“The abuse described is inappropriate and has no place in the playground, training center or workplace,” he said in a statement. “As the national governing body of our sport, the American Federation is committed to doing everything possible so that all football players – at all levels – have a safe and respectable place to learn, grow and compete.”
The report made a number of recommendations that prioritize mental health and safety. One of them is the need for teams to accurately report acts of misconduct to the league and federation to ensure that a coach cannot change teams.
NWSL said it is reviewing the report. The NWLS league and player association are also conducting an investigation.