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NWSL investigation: Red Stars owner dismissed Rory Dames complaints

Rory Dames coaches from the sidelines of a Red Stars game last season. (Robin Alam/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

U.S. Soccer released the full findings of its investigation into abusive coaching in the NWSL on Monday, providing new insight into Rory Dames’ tenure as head coach of the Chicago Red Stars and his subsequent exit from the club.

The report, spearheaded by former attorney general Sally Q. Yates, expanded on previously reported claims of abuse and misconduct leveled at Dames and Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler’s handling of those complaints.

Red Stars players said Dames used “pejorative and degrading language and made racially insensitive comments,” according to the report.

“For example, they said that: In addition to referring to Black players as ‘thugs’ and one Black player in particular as a ‘bodyguard,’ on one occasion, Dames approached a Black player, pointed to her styled ‘baby hair’ and asked, ‘what is it?’” Per the report, it was explained to Dames that his question was a “microaggression.”

The report also showed a concerted effort by players to alert the NWSL of Dames’ behavior early in his tenure.

In 2014, U.S. women’s national team and Red Stars forward Christen Press filed a complaint to then-U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati and then-USWNT head coach Jill Ellis, saying that Dames “‘created a hostile environment,’ verbally and emotionally abused players, had made sexist and racist remarks to players and had retaliated against her and other players when they spoke out.”

The complaint was shared with USSF CEO Dan Flynn, acting-NWSL General Counsel Lisa Levine and NWSL Executive Director Cheryl Bailey, who then forwarded Press’ concerns to Whisler, according to the report.

Whisler “complained that National Team players wanted ‘this league to shut down’ and simply had an ‘axe to grind’ with Dames,” the report states.

The investigation revealed that Dames offered to resign “in light of the complaints,” but Whisler declined to accept his resignation and no disciplinary measures were taken.

Instead, Dames stayed on with the Red Stars as head coach until Nov. 21, 2021, when he resigned from his position. The announcement came a day before the publication of a Washington Post story detailing verbal and emotional abuse allegations against Dames.

“The decision to allow Rory to step down after the championship match was allowing the players to finish the season that they wanted to finish,” Whisler told the Chicago Sun-Times earlier this year. “We conducted an internal workplace assessment with a third-party sports psychologist and others and made sure that the environment was safe to continue.”

The psychologist, however, revealed that “70 precent of players reported concerning behaviors that are consistent with the generally accepted definition of emotional abuse in sport,” the report states.

Whisler remains the owner of the Red Stars, and according to the report, he “states that there is ‘nothing to this day’ that he observed or was told about Dames during his tenure as a coach of the Chicago Red Stars, that he believes constituted abuse of misconduct or required him to take action.”

In March 2019, while USSF was still investigating players’ allegations against Dames, SafeSport notified USSF that it had received a report that Dames had a relationship with a former player while she was on his team, married her and had a child with her, the report stated.

SafeSport determined after a month-long preliminary inquiry that there wasn’t enough information to proceed with a formal investigation. According to the report, there is no indication that USSF informed the NWSL, Red Stars or the Eclipse (Dames’ youth club) of the allegation brought to SafeSport.

Yates’ investigation addressed Dames’ time in youth soccer as well, uncovering a pattern of inappropriate behavior that the Washington Post first reported on in February 2022.

Players recounted instances of verbal and emotional abuse, claiming Dames created a “sexualized team environment.”

As Eclipse coach, Dames asked questions about players’ sex lives, “spoke to youth players about foreplay, oral sex and male climax,” spent time alone with players in his apartment, hotel rooms and their childhood bedrooms and “touched a youth player inappropriately on her thigh,” per the report.

Eclipse player Natalie Ramello said Dames would “give girls tips on sex and say things like: ‘you should be shaved and bare down there,’ and ‘I hope you’re giving your boyfriend a good time.’”

Players who participated in the investigation reported “that Dames has sexual relationships with multiple players who previously played for him at the youth level, though these relationships may have begun after they reached the age of consent.”

Many of the allegations from Dames’ youth career date back to 1998.

Per Yates’ report, the Red Stars did not fully cooperate with the U.S. Soccer investigation, initially declining to produce documents beyond those relating directly to Rory Dames.

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