Racing Louisville player Emina Ekic, six former Racing players and one former staff member accused president James O’Connor, former president Brad Estes and the front office of enabling a culture of abuse to flourish at the club, WHAS11’s Tyler Greever reported Wednesday.
Former Racing coach Christy Holly featured prominently in the Sally Yates report on systemic abuse in the NWSL, as the U.S. Soccer-commissioned investigation uncovered claims of sexual abuse leveled against Holly by former Racing player Erin Simon.
Holly groped Simon during a film session, masturbated in front of her and sent her sexually explicit photos, according to the report. Holly was fired for cause in August 2021 after team leadership learned of the alleged abuse, but the Racing Louisville front office did not elaborate publicly on the factors that led to Holly’s dismissal.
Earlier in 2021, three players – Emily Fox, who is still on the Racing roster, and former players Julia Ashley and Noelle Higginson – met with O’Connor and human resources director Erin Wilkins to discuss their concerns with the club environment.
While they noticed some improvements after the meeting, Wilkins revealed the three players’ identities to Holly and others by email in scheduling a follow-up meeting.
“Obviously at that point, trust was broken,” Ashley said. “And I asked HR, ‘What happened there? We had talked about this.’ She (Wilkins) claimed that she didn’t know how to blind copy.”
Former Racing forward Vanessa Kara, who also spoke to WHAS11, pointed to that moment as an early example of the distrust that festered in the first season of the expansion franchise.
“That is a horrible violation of confidentiality and kind of started this culture of we have nowhere safe to go because nobody believes our word,” Kara said.
That atmosphere allowed various abuses to go unchecked for too long, players said, from Holly’s abuse of Simon to the emotional, physical and verbal abuse of players by Holly and other members of the coaching staff.
Some of the players pointed to current Louisville City FC analyst and former Racing assistant coach Gary Curneen and former volunteer coach Clifton Bush as perpetrators of alleged emotional and verbal abuse.
Holly and former Racing director of high performance Brianne Brown also treated injuries with attitudes ranging from cavalier to abusive, WHAS11 reported.
For example, Kara has a benign brain tumor and takes medication to manage it. After a preseason road trip, she was experiencing side effects from the medication, and she recalled Holly belittling her symptoms and taking digs at her throughout the week.
“I was warned not to go [to Louisville] because he creates a very bad culture,” Kara said. “So, in hindsight if I knew the degree to those words, I wouldn’t have gone. But it was the only place I was offered a trial period. So, it’s your dream or is he really that bad? And the answer is yes, he really was.”
All six former members of Racing Louisville who spoke to WHAS11 said O’Connor, who took over as President in early 2022 after Estes stepped down, should no longer be part of the club, and they want to see anyone else who did not listen to players’ concerns removed as well.
Other players have also spoken out about their time in Louisville, with Brooke Hendrix detailing the powerlessness she felt in being unable to help Simon. Simon, meanwhile, issued a statement Wednesday saying that she hopes soccer can become “a safe place.”
Racing Louisville has refrained from commenting on the Yates report as the NWSL and NWSL Players Association continue their own investigation into abuse in the league, but the club did provide a statement to WHAS11 detailing the steps the team has taken in the wake of the Yates report.
“It is our hope that these efforts lead to the positive change we all want to see,” the club said in the statement.” We will listen, learn and act to ensure we maintain the best possible environment for players.”