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NWSL report outlines dangerous culture of weight-shaming

Farid Benstiti, OL Reign coach from 2020-21, was named in the report for excessive weight-shaming. (Jane Gershovich/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

When the NWSL and the NWSLPA released their joint investigation Wednesday into widespread abuse and misconduct throughout the league’s history, a point not made as extensively in October’s Sally Q. Yates report stuck out: weight-shaming.

In sports, bodies are constantly on display and uplifted for excellence. But the NWSL report details how obsession over weight, especially by those seeking excessive control over their players, opened up avenues for harm without systemic recourse.

Fitness and nutrition are intrinsically tied to sports performance, but in the case of misconduct in the NWSL, the logic for targeted weight-shaming became arbitrary and frequently tied to the way players looked rather than how they played. Coaches then used the perception of a player being overweight to target them for harassment, “even if their strength and fitness levels were on par with their teammates,’ and even if the coach lacked the expertise to make such judgments,” per the report.

Former OL Reign coach Farid Benstiti’s reputation for weight-shaming was not a secret. USWNT midfielder Lindsey Horan spoke openly about her time playing for Benstiti at Paris St-Germain and how he prioritized looks over performance. On Angel City midfielder Cari Roccaro’s podcast, Horan described how Benstiti told her she weighed too much even though she had excelled at preseason testing. Being pushed into excessive dieting affected Horan’s energy levels, adversely influencing her life both on and off the pitch.

Former OL Reign CEO Bill Predmore said in the NWSL report that Benstiti had already signed his contract with the club when he became aware of Horan’s concerns, but the report states internally that he ‘considered the issue a “cultural thing” and that [Benstiti] “worked on it.” Predmore also defended the decision publicly. In a conversation upon Benstiti’s hiring with Sounder at Heart, Predmore said, “I really do believe he is somebody that shares and embodies — and will live up to — the values we have as an organization. I think fans will find he’s a much more warm and inviting person than how he’s being portrayed right now.”

But according to the NWSL investigation, Benstiti could not stop himself from continuing his preoccupation with food despite being expressly forbidden from touching the subject. One player reported that Benstiti told players, “If I see you eat snacks, I will kill you.” Another player said that, during the 2020 Challenge Cup, Benstiti was “already hiding food under the table he didn’t want girls to eat.” She also said that Benstiti “was always commenting on food and women and their weight.”

Crossing lines with weight commentary is likely pervasive in sports regardless of gender, but the peculiarity of Benstiti’s preoccupation with women and their weight underlines how gendered norms can exacerbate these issues. This also allowed concerns to be neglected as cultural differences.

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Paul Riley was fired by the Courage in October 2021 after abuse allegations against him first emerged. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

In the case of former Thorns and Courage coach Paul Riley, the investigation showed how harassment over players’ weight could create a power dynamic that led to sexual harassment. According to the NWSL report, Riley used player weight as a strategy for “breaking down [a player’s] confidence, saying she doesn’t look fit,” in order to build the player back up in his own image.

Riley began his harassment of former Thorns player Mana Shim with comments about her weight before becoming more aggressive in his advancements, per the report. He drove defender Kaleigh Kurtz to develop an eating disorder, for which she said she later pursued professional help. She told investigators that she “identified his conduct towards her as abusive, and realized that he had been ‘grooming’ her for sexual abuse.” As outlined in the report, comments about weight were not simply part of a coaching style — in many cases, they were used as a tool for normalizing further abuse.

Former Houston Dash coach Vera Pauw was also accused of influencing eating disorders in her players, something the current Republic of Ireland coach staunchly denies. The report emphasizes Pauw’s preoccupation with the way her players looked, saying she was concerned about the team becoming too “bulky” and adjusted weight-lifting programs accordingly. She told the investigative team that a player had confronted her about a teammate developing an eating disorder, which she felt was the players’ responsibility to take care of as a group.

Fitness and nutrition are intrinsically linked to performance, and it is obviously within the bounds of a coach’s role to discuss those subjects in that context. But the NWSL acknowledged that it must take greater care in making sure the logic involved in those discussions is sound and not used for emotional manipulation.

The report states that if a coach has a legitimate health or fitness concern about a player’s weight, they need to bring that concern to a health professional first. Those concerns then need to be discussed privately and not weaponized against a player in settings among their teammates. The league’s 2022 Anti-Harassment Policy says that emotional misconduct may include “belittling players about their body image or weight,” especially when based on arbitrary criteria rather than sports science. The NWSL also plans to do extensive vetting of new hires that goes beyond basic background checks.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

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