NWSL and NWSLPA joint abuse investigation: What to know

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The NWSL season has come to an end, but the league’s investigation into alleged abuse and misconduct has not.

While U.S. Soccer’s investigation concluded in early October with the release of a bombshell report, the joint investigation from the NWSL and the NWSL Players Association is ongoing. Here’s what you need to know as we await the results.

When did the investigation start?

The investigation began in October 2021, after two former NWSL players leveled accusations of sexual harassment and coercion against coach Paul Riley.

The players’ voices proved a tipping point. Riley was fired as head coach of the North Carolina Courage, Lisa Baird stepped down as NWSL commissioner, and the league and its players association started a joint investigation into abuse and misconduct.

Who is conducting the investigation?

The investigative team includes members from the NWSL and the NWSLPA.

The oversight committee for the investigation includes two members chosen by the league, two chosen by the NWSLPA and an independent member agreed upon by both sides.

The NWSL’s committee members are commissioner Jessica Berman and Djenaba Parker, while the NWSLPA’s members are NWSLPA executive director Meghann Burke and WNBPA executive director Terri Jackson. Retired federal judge Barbara Jones was selected as the independent committee member.

Amanda Kramer of Covington & Burling is representing the NWSL, while Arianna Scavetti of Weil, Gotshal & Burling is representing the NWSLPA.

As of Sept. 30, almost 200 interviews had been conducted and nearly 200,000 documents reviewed, according to The Athletic.

What is the investigation about?

The joint investigation is designed to “broadly review any instances of inappropriate conduct and seek to identify systemic failures,” with the objective of developing “evidence-based practices” that will help the league put player safety first.

As part of the NSWSLPA’s demands, every coach, general manager, representative on the Board of Governors and owner was required to voluntarily submit to the investigation. Each of the league’s 12 clubs are being investigated to determine whether any abuse “has occurred at any point in time.”

Riley was one of five NWSL coaches to be dismissed or step down during the 2021 season: Farid Benstiti resigned from OL Reign; Richie Burke was fired by the Washington Spirit; Christy Holly was terminated “for cause” by Racing Louisville; and Rory Dames resigned from the Chicago Red Stars.

And more coaches were fired or suspended during the 2022 season: Kris Ward of the Washington Spirit was fired in August; James Clarkson of the Houston Dash was suspended in April; and Amanda Cromwell of the Orlando Pride was suspended in June and has since been fired.

Sally Yates’ report detailing the findings from the U.S. Soccer-commissioned investigation focused most heavily on Riley, Holly and Dames, but the focus of the NWSL and NWSLPA joint investigation remains to be seen.

How does the Yates investigation impact this investigation?

U.S. Soccer isn’t fully cooperating with the NWSL’s investigation, NWSL and NWSLPA officials indicated to The Athletic.

“U.S. Soccer has hired a different law firm to hold documents and witnesses back from the investigation where players do have an oversight role, and are in the room with direct access to evidence,” Burke told The Athletic last month. “It is my hope that U.S. Soccer, after they release their findings, will ramp up their cooperation.”

On the heels of the Yates investigation, pressure has increased for U.S. Soccer to cooperate with the league’s investigation. Last Tuesday, 44 members of Congress issued an open letter to U.S. Soccer on the findings of the Yates report, urging the federation to continue to implement change.

“As you know, the NWSL and the NWSL Players Association (NWSLPA) are conducting a separate joint investigation that will examine the working environments of all 12 of the teams in the NWSL,” the letter reads. “We ask that USSF cooperate fully with the joint NWSL-NWSLPA investigation and produce all documents for investigators that were provided to the Yates team.”

In response, U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone said the league has been “meeting regularly” with leaders of both the NWSL and NWSLPA.

“We will continue to support and cooperate with their ongoing investigation as we all seek to enact systemic change across our game,” she said.

But according to The Athletic, the joint investigation still is awaiting documents from the national federation despite issuing requests as far back as January 2022. Recent discussions with U.S. Soccer were encouraging to the joint investigative team, but frustration over lack of cooperation and lost time was still evident.

When will the joint investigation release its findings?

No firm timeline has been provided, but the joint investigation is expected to be completed by the end of 2022, Berman said in October.