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NWSL names Jessica Berman commissioner after five-month search

(Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

Jessica Berman was named NWSL commissioner on Wednesday following a nearly five-month search for the league’s next leader. She joins the NWSL from the National Lacrosse League, where she served as deputy commissioner and executive vice president of business affairs.

“I’m honored to be the next commissioner of the NWSL and grateful to the owners for their confidence in me,” Berman said. “Working on behalf of, and in partnership with, our players is my number one priority. Having been involved in professional sports for many years, I know how critically important a genuine partnership with players is for us all to be successful and continue to grow.”

Prior to joining the NLL, Berman spent 13 years at the NHL, first as vice president and deputy general counsel and later as vice president of community development, culture and growth as well as executive director of the NHL Foundation.

Berman will begin her four-year term as commissioner on April 20. Marla Messing will stay on as interim CEO until May 31. Messing took over the role in October 2021 after then-commissioner Lisa Baird resigned following a widespread reckoning over abuses of power. The league’s Board of Directors also ousted general counsel Lisa Levine.

In the wake of a report in The Athletic detailing accusations of sexual coercion against former Courage coach Paul Riley, players around the league criticized the NWSL’s response. Amid the fallout, the NWSL Players Association demanded that the players have a role in hiring the league’s next commissioner.

Members of the Players’ Commissioner Search Committee included Crystal Dunn, Kaylie Collins, Jane Campbell, Bri Visalli, Nicole Barnhart, Emily Menges and Tori Huster, as well as NWSLPA executive director Meghann Burke. The search committee also included the Board of Governors and firm James & Co.

“We’re thrilled to have Jessica serve as the next commissioner of the NWSL as we embark on our 10th season of play,” said Sophie Sauvage, a member of the Board of Governors for OL Reign. “This process was incredibly collaborative throughout and we want to thank the players for their involvement. Jessica’s extensive professional background, her commitment to elevating diverse voices in the sports industry, and her vision for the future of our league, made her the right fit for this incredibly important position.”

Berman’s hire comes one month after the NWSLPA ratified the league’s first CBA. The agreement, which includes a 160 percent increase in the league’s minimum salary, group licensing rights and other player benefits and guarantees, runs for five years.

“The successful conclusion of the league’s first-ever CBA with our players is the perfect foundation from which to build that partnership,” Berman said. “And I am grateful for Marla Messing’s leadership in getting that done.”

Berman told “CBS Mornings” on Wednesday that her priority will be to forge a strong working relationship with the players.

“My background is that I’m a labor lawyer, so I’m a firm believer in the partnership that exists with our union,” she said. “I like to say it’s a marriage where you can’t get a divorce, where we have to work together. That will be my priority moving forward.”