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NWSL coach abuse investigation: U.S. Soccer reports ‘systemic’ issues

(Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The U.S. Soccer Federation found “systemic” abuse in the National Women’s Soccer League during its year-long investigation into allegations of misconduct.

The full findings of U.S. Soccer’s investigation, which was conducted by former U.S. attorney general Sally Q. Yates, were released Monday and include new information on accusations against former NWSL coaches Paul Riley, Rory Dames and Christy Holly.

The abuse allegations against Holly, who was fired from his position as head coach of Racing Louisville in August 2021, had previously been undisclosed. The team fired him “for cause” but did not elaborate on the move at the time.

Holly requested a one-on-one film session in April 2021 with Erin Simon, who played for Louisville at the time and now plays for Women’s Super League club Leicester City. Holly told Simon he would touch her for every bad pass on the game film, and “he pushed his hands down her pants and up her shirt,” according to the report.

In another incident, he told Simon he wanted to review game film but showed pornography instead and masturbated in front of her before she left.

U.S. Soccer started its investigation after a 2021 report in The Athletic that detailed allegations of sexual harassment and coercion made against Riley in 2015 during his tenure as head coach of the Portland Thorns. In the wake of The Athletic’s report, Riley was fired from his position as the North Carolina Courage coach.

“We heard report after report of relentless, degrading tirades; manipulation that was about power, not improving performance; and retaliation against those who attempted to come forward,” the report reads.

The report provides details of Riley coercing one of his players into a sexual relationship.

Players from Dames’ time as a youth coach said he spoke to them about their sex lives and “crossed the line to sexual relationships in multiple cases, though those relationships may have begun after the age of consent,” according to the report.

“Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture in women’s soccer, beginning in youth leagues, that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players,” the report reads.

In addition to the findings, U.S. Soccer outlined the steps it will take to address the recommendations in the report, which totals 172 pages.

“I am grateful to Sally Yates and her team for their dedicated work, and to everyone who participated openly and honestly in the investigation, especially the players who courageously came forward publicly to share their experiences and set in motion the process of identifying the facts and driving necessary and immediate change,” U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone said in a statement.

“U.S. Soccer and the entire soccer community have to do better, and I have faith that we can use this report and its recommendations as a critical turning point for every organization tasked with ensuring player safety. We have significant work to do, and we’re committed to doing that work and leading change across the entire soccer community.”

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