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NWSL leaders respond to criticism over timing of report’s release

Jessica Berman was named NWSL commissioner in April. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

As France and Morocco kicked off in the men’s World Cup semifinal on Wednesday, the NWSL and NWSL Players Association released the report on their joint investigation into misconduct throughout the league since its inception in 2012. And as the whistle blew on France’s 2-0 win, the sides held a press conference with the media, leading to a chaotic few hours for those in the soccer world.

The NWSL and NWSLPA investigation builds on the Sally Q. Yates report published in October, which detailed systemic abuse in the league and the failures by leaders to address it. The NWSL’s joint investigation began last October and the report had been expected for weeks, leaving many wondering why the league chose to release it at a time that conflicted with an event of such global significance.

Many soccer journalists report on both the men’s and women’s game, meaning resources on Wednesday had to be split between covering the Men’s World Cup and the 125-page NWSL/NWSLPA report. NWSLPA Executive Director Meghann Burke said she hopes journalists will “spend the next few days digesting this really important piece of work.”

Those efforts are crucial to distilling and disseminating the findings of the report to the public and holding people in power to account. The league and U.S. Soccer launched their investigations last year only after a report in The Athletic detailed allegations of sexual and emotional abuse against former Thorns and Courage coach Paul Riley, and others in the Washington Post uncovered wrongdoing by former coaches Rory Dames and Richie Burke.

But the timing of the NWSL report’s release on Wednesday only made the task of digesting it and reporting on it more challenging.

NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said that they did not look at a calendar to see if any World Cup games conflicted with the publication date.

“The release date was directly determined by the completion of the report,” she told reporters. “Once we realized that it was substantially complete, we selected a date. There was no time where we took that date and checked the World Cup schedule.”

Burke and Berman were clear that they wanted all eyes on the report, and offered their apologies to those attending the press conference who had to miss the World Cup semifinal.

Burke also said they wanted to get the report out before the end of the month so that players did not head “into the holiday season with this looming over them.”

“It’s unfortunate,” Burke said. “I missed the game myself, which is unfortunate for all of us in this room, but we’ve been working hard 24/7 to get this report out.”

Not being able to watch a game was not the concern, however. It was the choice to release the report at a time that undermined the full attention the findings deserved.

“It’s unfortunate to see the commentary around that,” Berman said about the criticism of the report’s publication time. “Because I hope that people will take the time to recognize that this is really a brave and courageous moment for the players and for us collectively to face the truth and to heal and to move forward. And that really has been our singular focus.”

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.