Updated Oct 3, 2022 - Sports

U.S. Soccer investigation finds "systemic" abuse in women's league

 Cari Roccaro #8 of Angel City FC hits a header but goes wide of the goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher #1.

The second half of a National Women's Soccer League game at Banc of California Stadium on Aug. 14. Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Sexual misconduct and verbal and emotional abuse had "become systematic" in the National Women’s Soccer League, the game's top league in the U.S., according to a highly anticipated report released Monday.

Why it matters: The report details numerous instances of abuse across the league, vicious coaching tactics — "manipulation that was about power, not improving performance" — and a repeated failure by team executives and the league to respond to reports of abuse.

Driving the news: "Our investigation has revealed a league in which abuse and misconduct — verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct — had become systemic, spanning multiple teams, coaches, and victims," the report states.

  • "Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture in women’s soccer, beginning in youth leagues, that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players."

Between the lines: Among the gruesome findings, the report detailed a previously undisclosed encounter between then NWSL player Erin Simon and Christy Holly, the male former head coach for Racing Louisville FC, in 2021.

  • "She knew what to expect," per the report. "When she arrived, she recalls Holly opened his laptop and began the game film."
  • The coach told Simon that he was going to touch her for every bad pass, per the report.
  • "He did. Simon reports that he pushed his hands down her pants and up her shirt ... The video ended, and she left. When her teammate picked her up to drive home, Simon broke down crying."

The big picture: The report comes a year after NWSL players began speaking out about cases of harassment and abuse, often at the hands of male coaches.

  • What followed was a reckoning across the league, with games canceled, the league's commissioner stepping down, multiple coaches fired and players refusing to take the field.
  • U.S. Soccer commissioned Sally Q. Yates, a former deputy attorney general, and the law firm King & Spalding last year to investigate the league after the allegations of sexual and verbal abuse surfaced.
  • “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 in the report.

What they're saying: "This investigation’s findings are heartbreaking and deeply troubling," U.S. Soccer President and former U.S. Women’s National Team member Cindy Parlow Cone said in a statement.

Read the full report:

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