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NWSL issues lifetime bans to coaches at center of abuse reports

Former Portland Thorns and North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley has been banned permanently from the league. (Lewis Gettier/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The NWSL has issued lifetime bans to four of the coaches at the center of its abuse scandal, the league announced Monday.

Paul Riley, Christy Holly, Rory Dames and Richie Burke all have been barred permanently from the NWSL. The league also laid down further suspensions and fines, including a $1.5 million fine to the Chicago Red Stars and a $1 million fine to the Portland Thorns.

The punishments come one month after the NWSL and NWSLPA released the findings of their joint investigation into “widespread misconduct” in the league, and three months after U.S. Soccer released the results from its own investigation into “systemic” abuse and failures by NWSL coaches and executives.

Both investigations started after a 2021 report in The Athletic detailed allegations of sexual harassment and coercion made against Riley in 2015, during his tenure as head coach of the Thorns. In the wake of that report, Riley was fired from his position as North Carolina Courage coach.

Holly, Dames and Burke also were fired or resigned in 2021 due to misconduct allegations, and the U.S. Soccer and NWSL/NWSLPA investigations exposed further details of their abusive behavior.

Holly was fired as Racing Louisville coach in August 2021 after he groped a player on multiple occasions. Burke was fired in September 2021 after player complaints of racism and verbal abuse. Dames resigned after that season after player complaints of his “pejorative,” “degrading” and “racially insensitive” comments were exposed by the Washington Post.

Several other coaches and club leaders identified in the misconduct investigations received suspensions Monday.

Former Utah Royals coach Craig Harrington “blurred professional boundaries” with players, including drinking with them at bars and making sexual comments to and about them, per the NWSL and NWSLPA report. Former Gotham FC general manager Alyse LaHue made unwanted sexual advances toward a player, per the same report.

Harrington and LaHue cannot work in the league until at least January 2025, and in order to do so each would have to acknowledge wrongdoing, undergo training and be approved for reinstatement by the commissioner.

Former OL Reign coach Farid Benstiti, former Houston Dash coaches James Clarkson and Vera Pauw and former Orlando Pride coach Amanda Cromwell and her assistants, Sam Greene and Aline Reis, are not permitted to work in the NWSL again unless they acknowledge wrongdoing, undergo training and are approved for reinstatement by the commissioner.

The league also issued fines to six of its 12 clubs: the Red Stars ($1.5 million); the Thorns ($1 million, previously announced by owner Merritt Paulson as a pledge support the establishment of an NWSL Player Safety Office); Racing Louisville ($200,000); North Carolina Courage ($100,000); OL Reign ($50,000); and Gotham FC ($50,000).

“The league will continue to prioritize implementing and enhancing the policies, programs and systems that put the health and safety of our players first,” NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement. “Those actions are fundamental to the future of our league, especially as we build a league that strengthens our players’ ability to succeed and prosper on and off the pitch.”

The NWSLPA called the league’s actions “a critical step” toward accountability and greater player safety.

While “no sanction will ever be enough to undo the harm that too many players endured,” NWSPLA president and Spirit midfielder Tori Huster said in a statement, she acknowledged the disciplinary measures as a step toward a brighter future.

“A new NWSL begins today,” Huster said.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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