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Sally Yates discusses most ‘troubling’ findings of NWSL investigation

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Following the release of Sally Yates’ lengthy report investigating misconduct within the National Women’s Soccer League, Yates and U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone addressed the findings in separate press conferences Monday.

Both agreed that while the report focused significant energy on three coaches — Christy Holly, Paul Riley and Rory Dames — the issues within the NWSL weren’t limited to those coaches or the organizations that employed them. Instead, Yates found the incidents of verbal abuse, emotional abuse and sexual misconduct to be systemic rather than isolated to specific teams.

“Our investigation over the past year has revealed a league in which abuse was systemic,” Yates said. “Verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct occurred at multiple teams and was perpetuated by several coaches, and affected many players. We also found that these issues were not unique or new to the NWSL.”

Yates went on to say that misconduct among several coaches dates back to prior professional leagues and, in some cases, to the youth level.

She also emphasized the importance of listening to players and not writing anyone off as being “overly sensitive.”

“We are talking about sustained, degrading and manipulative conduct that was all about power, not about enhancing a player’s performance,” Yates said.

Holly, Riley and Dames were at the center of the investigation, but Yates said she was unable to look into every team and coach at that same level because “we were mindful of the fact that this investigation could not go on forever.”

“It’s been almost a year to the day since we were retained, and in order for there to be both transparency and accountability, and to be able to put in place the changes that need to happen, this investigation needed to end,” she said.

More investigations will follow, including those conducted by the NWSL and the NWSL Players Association, Cone said. She also said U.S. Soccer plans to follow up with Yates to obtain more information about other coaches and organizations that need to be looked at further.

According to Cone, she and U.S. Soccer received the report at the same time as it was released to the public, so they have yet to address many of the concerns brought up by Yates.

Cone, however, did reference the initial report by Meg Linehan of The Athletic, which detailed allegations of sexual coercion and emotional abuse against Riley and, she says, set Yates’ investigation into motion.

“There are steps we haven’t taken yet in the recommendations because we can’t do it unilaterally. We need a broader input,” Cone said about implementing changes based on the new findings. “And also, we don’t want to say we are ‘going to do this or that,’ without having an implementation plan.”

Former Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly was fired for cause in August 2021. (Joe Robbins/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Cone did say that Holly, Riley and Dames no longer hold coaching licenses with U.S. Soccer.

That change is long overdue, according to Yates. During her 30-minute press conference with members of the media, Yates discussed the issue of the NWSL simply shuffling coaches around the league when players reported misconduct, rather than actually addressing the concerns.

Often, she said, these coaches were allowed to silently move from team to team, taking their abusive practices with them.

“The reasons for their departures were covered up in misleading press releases that often thanked the departing coach for his service,” Yates said. “All while those in a position to do something about it both at the league and federation, stood by and did nothing.”

Racing Lousivlle did not address the reason for its firing of Holly last year, stating on Aug. 31 that he was “fired for cause.”

When questioned, Racing Louisville’s Executive Vice President of Development James O’Connor — who is now the organization’s president — addressed whether Holly’s termination was linked to any legal wrongdoings.

“I don’t know whether I’d say illegal,” he told reporters at the time. “I don’t know. That’s a sensitive viewpoint … I plead the fifth. I’ll take the attorney line on that.”

U.S. Soccer’s report Monday revealed that Holly was accused of groping and sexually assaulting Racing Louisville player Erin Simon on multiple occasions.

When Dames resigned as coach of the Chicago Red Stars last November, the club issued a press release that reflected the cover-up concerns Yates addressed.

The release, which detailed Chicago’s acceptance of his resignation, included a quote from Dames.

“For 11 years, I have dedicated myself to help build the Chicago Red Stars into one of the top international clubs,” he said. “Effective today, I’m refocusing my attention to my family and future endeavors, and I am resigning as coach of the Chicago Red Stars. I’d like to thank the Chicago Red Stars organization, the fans and the players who I have had the opportunity to work with in their professional soccer careers. I look forward to watching the Chicago Red Stars and the NWSL continue to grow and evolve while supporting their players.”

The Red Stars organization praised Dames in the release, applauding the consistent play of the club during his tenure.

“Under Rory’s leadership we have been a remarkably consistent and excellent club on the field,” the release said. “We continually evaluate our team and front office environment, and given the dynamic change underway in the league, it is time to begin the next chapter of the Red Stars with a search for new leadership of the team.”

That press release went out less than a day before more details about his departure from the organization came to light, in a Washington Post article written by Molly Hensley-Clancy.

In addition, Yates discussed her concerns that the Portland Thorns, Chicago Red Stars and Racing Louisville all hindered the investigation with various levels of non-compliance, despite outwardly expressing to the public that they were cooperating fully with the investigation.

“We found the pushback that we did receive from some of the teams to be troubling and inconsistent with public statements of their desire to get to the bottom of this,” Yates said. “But we were also respectful of the joint investigation being conducted by the NWSL and the PA, and the fact that they’re going to be looking at this and the fact that the NWSL has the authority to be able to address coaches and coaching misconduct and discipline.”

Cone said that she didn’t think it was “constructive” to talk about individual owners or executives at this point, referring to a question asked about the teams that did not participate fully in the investigation.

“I think the report shows that we have systemic issues beyond one individual,” she said. “Do I wish that everyone had cooperated in the investigation? Of course.”

She also added that further decisions regarding those organizations aren’t entirely up to U.S. Soccer.

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