FILE - Portland Thorns fans hold signs during the first half of the team's NWSL soccer match against the Houston Dash in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. An independent investigation into the scandals that erupted in the National Women's Soccer League last season found emotional abuse and sexual misconduct were systemic in the sport, impacting multiple teams, coaches and players, according to a report released Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola, File)

Independent Investigation Reveals Systemic Abuse in NWSL

An independent investigation into multiple levels of women’s soccer in the United States revealed a culture of systemic verbal, emotional and sexual abuse.

Investigators released their findings in a several-hundred-page docket which provided accounts from players detailing abuse from the youth level to the highest levels of the sport.

Systemic Problems

The report begs systemic changes and transparency in NWSL specifically after several teams fired coaches without disclosing the reasons why. In many cases coaches made inappropriate or verbally abusive comments toward players and fostered a culture in which sexual misconduct went under the radar. Despite players complaints, USSF and NWSL did not prevent other teams from hiring these coaches.

The report names longtime Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames, detailing allegations that he “created a sexualized team environment and verbally and emotionally abused players and staff.” The report said Dames’ behavior was “no secret but had gone unaddressed for decades.”

The investigation also found that Dames routinely made inappropriate, sexually charged comments to players on his youth team and groomed some into sexual relationships. Investigators reported that an unnamed player had “an ongoing sexual relationship” with the coach that began soon after she graduated high school and while he was still her youth coach. Dames coached the Red Stars from 2011 to 2021.

What’s Next?

Following the report’s release, players have said they hope for more transparency and accountability for both NWSL and USSF. The Portland Thorns fired manager Paul Riley with cause following allegations of sexual coercion and harassment in 2015. Riley still coached the Western New York Flash in 2016 and headed the North Carolina Courage from 2017-2021.

A lack of accountability from club ownership is a common theme throughout the report. Investigators said team ownership largely ignored concerns brought directly to them and recommended that the NWSL implement and maintain avenues for anonymous player feedback.

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