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It took Luis Rubiales’ public behavior to validate Spain players’ concerns

Jorge Vilda and Luis Rubiales were at the center of the original complaints from Spain’s “Las 15.” (Alex Pantling – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Spanish federation president Luis Rubiales has refused to resign from his position in the aftermath of the scandal at the Women’s World Cup final, despite reports that he would do so on Friday.

Rubiales was seen non-consensually kissing player Jenni Hermoso during the medal ceremony and making a lewd gesture in the stands at the end of the game. His actions have come under fire in the days following the Spain women’s national team’s first World Cup win. During an emergency meeting among Spain’s soccer federation (RFEF) members on Friday, where reports had indicated Rubiales would resign, he instead staunchly defended his actions and refused to bend to public pressure.

“They’ve told me that the best thing would be to resign because if not, probably on Monday it would occur to someone to kick me out of the forum, find the formula,” Rubiales said in his speech. “But we’re in a country where the law rules, where there has to be a motive to take you out of some place. And I say: what is it I’ve done? A consensual peck is enough to get me out of here?”

The immediate aftermath of the shocking moment and the World Cup win itself was chaotic. Hermoso was seen saying on teammate Salma Paralluelo’s Instagram Live stream that she didn’t enjoy the kiss. Then, Rubiales was filmed making jokes about it in the locker room, including that he and Hermoso would get married in Ibiza.

Once it became clear the story wasn’t going away, Spain’s soccer federation, RFEF, issued a statement on Hermoso’s behalf downplaying the incident. It was later reported that the statement was not made with her full participation, which RFEF denies.

Rubiales put out a video statement apologizing for how the kiss was perceived and was met with a public outcry. Prominent players like the USWNT’s Megan Rapinoe and Sweden’s Caroline Seger, and coaches like the San Diego Wave’s Casey Stoney, condemned Rubiales and his actions.

“I want the whole world to react,” Seger told a Swedish newspaper, “and I want something to happen because it’s clear that there are problems in RFEF. If people think it’s not wrong, it’s just not acceptable!”

Spanish politicians have also condemned Rubiales’s actions. Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s acting prime minister, said Rubiales’ apology “wasn’t sufficient.” Futpro, the Spanish players’ union, said it would investigate inappropriate actions on Hermoso’s behalf in conjunction with TMJ, Hermoso’s agency. Liga F, Spain’s premier women’s domestic league, called for Rubiales’ resignation.

“It is time to take a step forward,” Liga F’s statement read. “The opposite would be a humiliation for all women and the biggest defeat of Spanish sport and our country.”

Beatriz Álvarez Mesa, President of Liga F, went one step further in her comments.

“Those of us inside know that he has never done anything for women’s football,” she said this week. “He creates obstacles and inconveniences. Luis Rubiales has never believed, nor will he believe, in women and their role in soccer.”

Rapinoe also alluded to the larger issues following the Spanish federation both before and after the World Cup. Rubiales’ behavior signaled “such a deep level of misogyny and sexism in that federation and in that man,” she told The Atlantic this week.

In fact, Spain has been shrouded in controversy for over a year. Even as the team reached new heights at the international level, they were followed by the story of “Las 15,” the 15 players who refused call-ups to the senior team due to issues with federation resources and the management of coach Jorge Vilda.

In the letter “Las 15” originally sent to the federation, those specific issues weren’t shared in detail, though players said the culture was having an “important effect on my emotional state and by extension my health.” A report in The Athletic elaborated on some of the complaints, which included allegations that the coaching staff requested hotel doors remain open until midnight and the intrusive searching of player belongings.

RFEF — led by Rubiales — quickly condemned “Las 15,” sticking by Vilda’s management and demanding contrition from protesting players in order to have a chance to play in the World Cup. Three players — Aitana Bonmatí, Ona Batlle and Mariona Caldentey — returned to the team, and the group made it all the way to the World Cup trophy lift despite intense internal tension.

The USWNT’s Christen Press had expressed hope that Spain’s World Cup success would give players greater leverage to effect change inside their federation, but that reality has played out differently. In a strange way, swift public reaction to internal complaints only came in the moment that Rubiales felt that he too had won.

He had been quoted in the Spanish media as feeling vindicated by Spain’s success in the World Cup prior to the final, celebrating what he saw as a few naysayers being proven wrong. He also initially called the backlash to his behavior “idiotic,” telling Spanish radio station Cope: “We do not pay any attention to idiots and stupid people. It was a peck between two friends celebrating something.”

Jennifer Hermoso celebrates Spain's World Cup win on Sunday. (Photo by Joe Prior/Visionhaus via Getty Images)

The defiance immediately after the final whistle blew wasn’t relegated to individuals. The official social media channel for the Spain women’s national team posted a photo of Vilda with the caption “Vilda In,” appearing to directly reference criticisms of the team’s head coach. For a few brief moments, those who had reprimanded “Las 15” so fiercely had appeared to get what they wanted — validation by winning on the field.

As disheartening as it is to see, those attitudes have long held a place in sports, and specifically in women’s sports.

“You can be a fantastic football coach, absolutely fantastic, and you can be an absolutely horrible human being and not deserve to be in a position,” Gotham FC and USWNT player Midge Purce said on “The 91st” podcast. And her perspective is hard-won.

“We’ve seen it in the NWSL when we had to get rid of coaches, because the very thing existed. We had a coach who was the most winningest coach in the league, in league history, and he was abusing the players,” Purce continued, referring to the culture of abuse under Paul Riley while he was a head coach in the NWSL.

“I don’t really see this line of reasoning, which is ‘you win, you must stay,’ and I think prioritizes the values of society really, really poorly. What a dangerous message to send to not just young women but young men as well.”

The aftermath of the incident also showcased the pressures Spain’s players have likely been feeling for months. Hermoso downplayed the kiss in a radio interview, calling it “just a small thing.” But the 33-year-old midfielder also reportedly refused to appear alongside Rubiales in his apology video, despite pleas from both Rubiales and Vilda, and she supports those urging appropriate action be taken.

The good news is that Rubiales’ brazenness in the moment has caught the attention of those with far more influence than any individual player.

“What it does is it licenses me to speculate a lot, way more than I was before,” said Purce. “And the amount, the speculation that I have is very damning. And my heart is with the players, and I hope that it concludes in the way that is beneficial to them.”

With FIFA’s interest in the case, hope is renewed that the internal reform many have hoped for inside Spain’s federation might soon come to fruition, despite Rubiales’ adamant denials. Let’s also hope that next time, it won’t take egregious behavior in the public eye for those in power to take serious action.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

One former player contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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