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Former Red Stars coach Rory Dames accused of verbal and emotional abuse

(Robin Alam/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Following Rory Dames’ resignation as head coach of the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday, new details have emerged about the power dynamics in Chicago, with multiple players accusing Dames of emotional and verbal abuse.

Christen Press, a member of the Red Stars from 2014-17, is one of seven players who detailed their accounts of Dames’ emotionally abusive behavior to the Washington Post’s Molly Hensley-Clancy. Five of the players said they asked to be traded or sought to leave the team because of Dames’ treatment of them. Their stories and confidential records detail a pattern of misconduct that could be described as “controlling, berating and humiliating players and breaking the boundaries of the player-coach relationship,” according to the report.

Press told the Post that she first spoke up about Dames during a meeting with then-U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and other federation officials in 2014. Gulati did not act on her complaints, telling her at the time that Dames’ conduct was expected from a professional coach, Press said.

Gulati declined to comment to the Post as a result of U.S. Soccer’s pending investigation into the NWSL, which has had multiple coaches fired for abusive behavior this past season.

In 2017, Press told Dames that she wanted to be traded, a consequence of his treatment of her as she explained to the Post. The next year, she filed a formal complaint with U.S. Soccer, launching an investigation into Dames’ behavior. In the complaint, which was reviewed by the Post, Press explained that Dames had repeatedly violated the federation’s policies against “emotional misconduct.”

“I think Rory emotionally abuses players,” Press wrote as part of the formal complaint. “He doesn’t have a safe distance between himself and his players. He uses his power and status as the coach to manipulate players and get close to them.”

Becca Roux, executive director of the national team player’s union, confirmed the contents of the complaint made to U.S. Soccer.

“Things were happening that were inappropriate,” Press said. “But I’d been told to be quiet, that this was fine.”

The players all reportedly cited one incident when asked to explain the type of coach Dames was.

The players interviewed described one practice where Dames singled out a player, who was the mother of a young child at the time. According to multiple players who witnessed the incident, Dames felt she had not been communicating clearly and screamed at the player: “If you can’t even talk on the field, what kind of mother are you?”

The player, who could not be reached for comment, began to cry.

“Something happens to [Dames] when he comes to work, because he’s a completely different person, and he does not have to be that way,” said Sam Johnson, a former Red Stars player who was present for the incident. “It’s extremely demoralizing, and definitely verbally abusive. Is verbal abuse against the rules? I don’t know, but I just know I wasn’t comfortable with him challenging my teammate like that.”

Other players said that Dames would verbally attack players when he was angry, mocking players’ educations and personal lives.

“I realized that this man would use information he has about me in a way that will harm me, and in a way that he can manipulate me,” one player said, echoing others who said they had withheld personal information from Dames. “I don’t want him to know about the things that matter most to me.”

Press said she often witnessed the coach control players in a way that felt gendered.

The Post said it reached out to the Red Stars with a summary of the players’ accusations, seeking comment about the complaints. A team spokeswoman issued a statement assuring an “independent review of player health and safety and the team’s work culture” without any specifics. Hours later, nearing midnight in Chicago, the club announced Dames’ resignation.

The accusations make Dames the fifth male NWSL coach to be the subject of misconduct allegations this year. In September, multiple players accused former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley of sexual coercion and emotional abuse the in The Athletic. Those allegations led to the resignation of league commissioner Lisa Baird.

At the time, U.S. Soccer opened an independent investigation into the NWSL, led by former acting attorney general Sally Q. Yates. Up until this year, U.S. Soccer acted as the managing body of the NWSL, having been involved with the league since its founding in 2013. As a member of the USWNT, Press was employed by U.S. Soccer, and not the NWSL, when she played for Dames.

“I was terrified of what Rory would do and say if he found out this was something I’d said,” Press said of her decision to speak to U.S. Soccer officials in 2014. “And then I was made to feel by U.S. Soccer that I was in the wrong, there was nothing to report, and that this was acceptable.”

“For so many women in this league, you think you don’t have any worth,” she continued. “And if you stand up and you say what you think is right or wrong, nobody cares.”

As for U.S. Soccer’s prior investigation into Dames’ behavior, three players told the Post that they never heard from the federation after detailing their allegations. Another said she spent more than two hours speaking to an investigator and never received a follow-up message.

Molly Levinson, who represents the USWNT players, called the federation’s handling of the accusations “very disappointing.”

“The U.S. Soccer Federation should provide safe and accountable mechanisms for players to report harassment and abuse, free from retaliation, and if necessary, take steps to hold to account anyone who does not adhere to proper standards,” Levinson said. “USSF utterly failed to do any of those things in this case.”

The Red Stars, in a statement later Monday, said the organization launched an independent review of player health and safety and the team’s work culture several weeks ago and plans to implement those recommendations accordingly.

“We stand with the players who are fiercely advocating for change, and we are committed to doing our part to ensure a safe environment for the League’s players, staff, volunteers and fans,” the club said.