Player-coach relationships at heart of NWSL report on misconduct

Christy Holly was named in the NWSL report for both a consensual relationship with a player and a non-consensual one. (Joe Robbins/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Romantic and sexual relationships between coaches and players are inappropriate, even if they are consensual, per the NWSL and NWSLPA joint report released Wednesday.

The Sally Yates report, commissioned by U.S. Soccer and published in October, focused on predatory relationships through which coaches wielded their power to sexually and emotionally abuse players. The NWSL and NWSL Players Association report, which was the product of a 14-month investigation into widespread misconduct in the league, went a step further on the subject, calling for an end to consensual relationships between players and coaches or staff members.

The report recommends revision to the Anti-Harassment policy to also include the Non-Fraternization policy.

“The Non-Fraternization Policy should also clarify that any sexual or romantic relationship between players and those in supervisory roles over players is strictly prohibited, even if the relationship is consensual,” the report reads.

The NWSL and NWSLPA investigative team found several instances of such inappropriate relationships and raised concerns about the issues that come along with them.

The concerns include an inherent power imbalance and threats of favoritism and disruption in the team environment. One of the biggest issues with these types of relationships is they “blur the lines between appropriate and inappropriate behavior, increasing the risk of misconduct.”

Relationships between coaches and players have become commonplace in the NWSL after that trickling down from previous professional women’s soccer leagues. The report acknowledges that some of the most well-known American soccer stars are married to their former coaches, such as Brandi Chastain and Julie Foudy, though the report does not mention them by name.

Chastain’s husband, Jerry Smith, was the head coach at Santa Clara when she joined the team in 1989. They were married in 1996, six years after she left the program. Smith remains the coach of the Broncos, and Chastain returned in 2010 to serve as a volunteer assistant coach on his staff.

Foudy is married to Ian Sawyers, who was an assistant coach at Sanford when she played for the Cardinal from 1989-92.

Amanda Cromwell, who was named in the report for retaliating against players while she was coach of the Orlando Pride, is also married to a former player, Megan Fish. Cromwell coached Fish in college at UCF before she went on to lead the UCLA program from 2013-21 and take the Pride job in 2021. Cromwell’s contract was terminated in October based on the findings of the investigation.

Amanda Cromwell, former Orlando Pride coach, is in a relationship with her former college player. (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)

Those are just three examples of player-coach relationships, and the report mentions others.

“One former player recalled that her college goalkeeper coach and assistant coach were both married to former players,” the report reads. “She recalled thinking at the time, ‘They’re all adults,’ and did not consider the ‘context of how these people met.’”

The power imbalances at the root of these relationships are the same dynamics that can lead to abusive and non-consensual relationships.

Christy Holly, who is cited in both the Yates report and the NWSL and NWSLPA report, is in a relationship with one of his former players, Christie Pearce Rampone. The relationship began when he was her coach at Sky Blue and caused conflict within the team, per the report.

“One player said that ‘everything’ players told Pearce Rampone ‘went back to’ Holly,” the report says. “A club staff member said the relationship made players feel that they did not ‘have anyone to talk to’ or ‘anyone to trust.’”

Players felt that Holly’s decisions were centered around Pearce Rampone, according to the report. In one instance, he pulled her from the starting lineup following a fight, but when they reconciled, he put her back into the lineup.

“And while Sky Blue leadership, the League, and Racing Louisville knew that Holly had a relationship with Pearce Rampone, who had been one of his players, the relationship was generally viewed as not concerning because Pearce Rampone was older than Holly and a prominent figure within the women’s soccer landscape,” the NWSL and NWSLPA report reads.

Around the same time, Holly was engaging in acts of sexual abuse and emotional manipulation toward Erin Simon, the report says. Simon played for him both at Sky Blue and Racing Louisville, where the abuse continued. This non-consensual relationship also took place while Holly was in a consensual relationship with Pearce Rampone.

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