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NWSLPA head concerned over U.S. Soccer probe into abuse scandal

(Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The U.S. Soccer Federation has limited its abuse investigation to the NWSL, but the problem extends beyond just one league, NWSL Players Association executive director Meghann Burke said.

“We know these issues aren’t confined to the NWSL,” Burke said.

Burke outlined her concerns over U.S. Soccer’s investigation into the NWSL’s coach abuse scandal in a joint interview with NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman published Friday in The Athletic. The federation will release its findings in early October, it announced earlier this month.

U.S. Soccer began its investigation last October, after the league was rocked by sexual harassment allegations against then-North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley. The NWSL and NWSLPA opened their own joint investigation into misconduct within the league soon afterward, but they have not provided a timeline of when their findings will be released.

Riley was one of five NWSL coaches to be dismissed or step down last season — Farid Benstiti resigned from OL Reign; Richie Burke was fired by the Washington Spirit; Christy Holly was terminated “for cause” by Racing Louisville; Rory Dames resigned from the Chicago Red Stars.

Yet the “root causes” of coach abuse extend “further and deeper” than the women’s league, Burke said.

“Virtually every coach who has been exposed for some kind of misconduct in the past year or so learned those behaviors in youth soccer, and the NWSL inherited them,” Burke said. “I’m concerned about the limit of U.S. Soccer’s investigation.”

Burke also called out U.S. Soccer’s decision not to involve the NWSLPA in its probe. While players have “a seat at the table” in the joint investigation with the NWSL, they have “no such role with the U.S. Soccer investigation,” she said.

Nearly 200 interviews have been carried out and 200,000 documents have been acquired as part of the joint investigation by the league and its players association.

“I do believe this is the first of its kind, and I truly believe this could be a model for how you respond. You know these issues are not confined to the NWSL, and they’re not confined to women’s soccer,” Burke said. “There is an opportunity if we get this right, and we’re doing our level best to get it right, to provide a model for other sports and other leagues.”

While Burke said she was worried the U.S. Soccer investigation, which is being led by former U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates, could “undermine public confidence” in the NWSL and NWSLPA’s investigation, Berman and NWSL investigator Amanda Kramer downplayed those concerns.

“That U.S. Soccer report coming out in no way diminishes the work we’ve been doing or the impact our report will make, because at the end of the day, I suspect there will be two reports saying, ‘These are the facts, these are the systemic issues,’” Kramer said.

U.S. Soccer responded to The Athletic’s story with a statement reading, “U.S. Soccer is fully supportive of the NWSL/NWSLPA’s joint investigation as well as every effort to uncover the facts and work toward a better, safer sport for all who compete.”