Jessica Berman: NWSL is ‘rebuilding the future of the league’

NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman hands the championship trophy Portland Thorns stars Becky Sauerbrunn and Christine Sinclair. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The NWSL had its foundation shaken by a wide-reaching abuse scandal, but the league is reestablishing its trust with players and rebuilding its future as it heads into 2023, commissioner Jessica Berman said.

Before the NWSL could move forward, it needed to prove itself to players, Berman told Lisa Leslie and Tracy Wolfson on the Dec. 25 episode of CBS Sports show “We Need to Talk.”

Berman joined the NWSL in April, six months after former commissioner Lisa Baird resigned. Baird, who had started as commissioner in February 2020, left the post after misconduct allegations against coaches rocked the league throughout the 2021 season.

The allegations culminated in two reports published this fall, one commissioned by U.S. Soccer and one undertaken by the NWSL and NWSLPA, which detailed “systemic” abuse.

“You can’t take steps forward to build the future of the league without rebuilding the credibility of our league and it starts with listening,” she said. “I sat in every locker room in person and sat with the players to listen and learn about their experience and to understand their vision for how we rebuild the future of the league.”

The 2022 season ended with one marker of success, in Berman’s view: When two of the NWSL’s 12 teams played for the championship on Oct. 29, 61 players from the 10 other teams attended the match as spectators.

The commissioner wanted to invite players to the final match between the Portland Thorns and Kansas City Current at Audi Field so they could recognize where the league has been but also celebrate where it is going.

“If we could get players to come to what is our tentpole event, which is our championship game, it would really be an indication to me internally that we’re doing the right things,” Berman said. “We’re setting the league on the right path… So these 61 players coming to Washington, D.C., was just incredible.”

With 2023 just around the corner and expansion on the horizon in 2024, Berman sees a bright future for the NWSL — and for all women’s sports.

“Women’s sports in no longer thought of as charity or nice to have or part of a corporate social responsibility budget,” Berman said. “This is part of investment for the future of sports. And when that paradigm shifted, which I would say happened over the last year or so culturally in the world, it really changed the future of what is possible in the NWSL.”