Investigation Finds Sexual Abuse In Women's Professional Soccer
An independent investigation into the women’s professional soccer league NWSL found pervasive and systematic abuse within women’s soccer. In 200 interviews throughout the organization, it’s evident that abusers are protected, often by non-disclosure agreements and non-disparagement agreements that silence female athletes and allow perpetrators to be hired by new teams with full knowledge of accusations from players.
It's common practice to "launder" perpetrators to new teams when allegations arise. From the report, “abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture of women’s soccer beginning in youth leagues that normalize verbally abusive coaching and blurs the boundaries between coaches and players.” Megan Rapinoe responded to the investigation coming forward on coaches she knew personally and those she had heard of. “It’s just impossible to overstate every single year, someone said something about multiple coaches in the league about multiple different environments.” The many testimonies in the report are difficult to read.
One such case that ESPN covers, is a manager Christy Holly who was eventually fired "with cause" in August of 2021 but the cause was never released until this week. The report detailed Holly “bringing a player (Erin Simon who has come forward publicly) in for a film session, stating he would touch her for every pass she made a mistake on.” “Holly would then proceed to put his hand down her pants and up her shirt. Simon would try to tightly cross her legs and push him away, laughing to avoid angering him.”
Holly was fired after this incident, but this wasn’t enough to launch an investigation. The incident that triggered a third-party investigation on the organization was a 2021 report in The Athletic against Portland Thorns coach Paul Riley. In 2015 “Riley invited two players back to his apartment and asked them to kiss each other in exchange for getting the team out of a conditioning drill the next day”. Riley was fired from the Thorns. But the Thorns didn’t do any follow up into his sending photos and a subsequent sexual relationship with one of these players. In fact, he got hired again for a new team immediately after. The reason of his firing was never disclosed allowing him to continue working with players in the NWSL. T
he president of the Thorns team on a call told the next club who would hire Riley that (Riley), “was put in a bad position by a player and that he would hire Riley in a heartbeat.” It’s been years after Larry Nassar’s abuse trial (gymnastics), there has been several years when people inside an organization like the NWSL could have thought of steps to discover if something similar was happening within their own league; or to put preventative measures in place. Instead, the NWSL (and likely many more similar associations across women’s athletics) waited, putting it onto the victims to make their faces, names, and stories public to force an investigation.