An independent investigation into the scandals that erupted in the National Women's Soccer League (NSWL) 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.
“Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture in women’s football, beginning in youth leagues, that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players,” former acting US Attorney General Sally Q. Yates wrote in her report on the investigation.
US Soccer commissioned the investigation by Yates and the law firm King & Spaulding after former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim came forward with allegations of harassment and sexual coercion dating back a decade involving former coach Paul Riley. Their account was published by The Athletic in September 2021.
Riley, who denied the allegations, was quickly fired as head coach of the North Carolina Courage, and NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird stepped down.
But it was clear the problems were widespread. Five of the 10 head coaches in the NWSL last season either were fired or stepped down amid allegations of misconduct.
“The verbal and emotional abuse players describe in the NWSL is not merely ‘tough’ coaching. And the players affected are not shrinking violets. They are among the best athletes in the world," Yates wrote.
More than 200 people were interviewed by investigators. Some two dozen entities and individuals provided documents.
US Soccer also provided documents and the firm reviewed 89,000 deemed likely to be relevant.
US Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone called the findings “heartbreaking and deeply troubling.”
“The abuse described is inexcusable and has no place on any playing field, in any training facility or workplace," she said in a statement. "As the national governing body for our sport, US Soccer is fully committed to doing everything in its power to ensure that all players –- at all levels –- have a safe and respectful place to learn, grow and compete."