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Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler steps aside during NWSL investigation

(Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Chicago Red Stars majority owner Arnim Whisler is removing himself from the NWSL board of governors and from all Red Stars-related decisions in the wake of U.S. Soccer’s report into abuse in the league.

The executive team in Chicago will take over all Red Stars operations in the absence of Whisler, per the statement.

Whisler’s announcement came Tuesday, on the same day that Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson also recused himself from his team’s decision-making.

Both owners were implicated in covering up or diminishing abuse allegations against coaches by the U.S. Soccer report. Both also mentioned cooperating with the ongoing joint investigation by the NWSL and NWSLPA into the abuse scandal, which is aiming to reach its own conclusion by the end of the year.

The U.S. Soccer investigation, which was led by Sally Q. Yates, began last year following reports of coach abuse. The findings released Monday detailed how Whisler handled abuse and misconduct complaints about former Red Stars coach Rory Dames.

Dames offered to resign over the complaints in 2014, but Whisler declined to accept and no disciplinary measures were taken. Instead, he accused players “of wanting to shut down the league.”

In 2018, Christen Press formally complained to U.S. Soccer about Whisler for a second time, saying Dames “emotionally abused” players.

“Whisler will tell you he knew nothing, which is a complete lie,” one player told U.S. Soccer as part of its investigation.

Whisler apologized in his statement “for what our players experienced during their time spent in Chicago” and said he would remove himself from his decision-making role “effective immediately.”

“Our organization is committed to rebuilding trust and respect among players and staff towards our league and club, and I recognize that my current presence is a distraction,” Whistler wrote. “I do not want to take any of the attention away from the players’ incredible and well-earned playoff run.”

The Red Stars claimed the final spot in the NWSL playoffs with a win Sunday over Angel City FC and will face the No. 3 seed San Diego Wave in a first-round match at 10 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 16.

In a statement Tuesday, NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman described the actions taken by Whisler and Paulson as “important steps” as the league continues to evaluate the report.

“I want to assure you that we remain committed to implementing reform and disciplinary action, both as a result of the Yates Report and the NWSL/NWSLPA’s Joint Investigative Team’s findings,” she said, noting that the investigative team is working to finish their report “by the end of the year.”

“We will not interfere with that process, as the findings of the investigation will offer important input from our players,” she continued. “While it will take time, we are fully prepared to take the necessary steps to protect the health and safety of our players, staff and other stakeholders in order to create the League that our players, fans, partners and staff deserve and expect.”