NWSL bans former coaches, fines teams after misconduct report
The National Women’s Soccer League on Monday permanently banned four former coaches, suspended other league officials and fined several teams, following a report last month that detailed allegations of abuse and misconduct throughout the league.
Paul Riley, former North Carolina Courage coach; Rory Dames, former Chicago Red Stars coach; Richie Burke, former Washington Spirit coach; and Christy Holly, a former Racing Louisville FC coach, were permanently banned from the league for alleged misconduct ranging from inappropriate comments to, in Holly’s case, groping a player.
The Red Stars were fined $1.5 million and Portland Thorns FC were fined $1 million for failing to act properly on allegations of misconduct.
Former Utah Royals FC coach Craig Harrington and former Gotham FC general manager Alyse LaHue each received two-year suspensions from the league. Harrington was found to have “made inappropriate sexual and objectifying comments” and LaHue to have sent inappropriate messages to players, according to the NWSL report.
The league said in a statement Monday that the sweeping disciplinary action was based on a 128-page report released in December. The report, a joint effort organized by the NWSL and its players’ union, revealed a number of disturbing issues across the league, including instances of sexual abuse, unwanted sexual advances, emotional abuse, remarks racism and retaliation against players who complained about the way they were treated.
“Players from marginalized backgrounds, or with the least job security, were often targets of misconduct,” the report said. “At the same time, these players faced the greatest obstacles to speaking out or obtaining redress for what they went through.”
Jessica Berman, the league’s commissioner, said in a statement that the “corrective actions” announced on Monday were “appropriate and necessary”.
“The league will continue to prioritize implementing and improving policies, programs and systems that put the health and safety of our players first,” Berman said. “These changes will require leadership, accountability, funding and a willingness to embrace this new way of doing business.”
Last month’s report is similar to another published in October, from an investigation by Sally Q. Yates, a former assistant attorney general, which detailed verbal abuse and “systemic” sexual misconduct by women’s soccer coaches. and revealed that American football officials The Federation, the NWSL and all of American football have failed to act on player complaints over the years.
Holly, while coaching Louisville, groped one of her players and texted him inappropriately, investigations allege. On one occasion, Holly invited a player to his home to watch video of a game, but instead masturbated in front of her and showed her pornography, according to the inquests.
Investigations also revealed that Riley, who was fired from North Carolina Courage in 2021, used his position to try to coerce at least three players into having sex. A player said Riley made sexual advances to him on several occasions, according to reports.
Dames, who resigned from the Chicago Red Stars in 2021, was accused by women’s soccer star Christen Press of “verbal and emotional abuse,” according to the NWSL report. Yates’ investigation also found that he created a “sexualized team environment” at a Chicago youth club that “crossed the line into sexual relationships in several instances, although those relationships may have started after age of consent”.
The NWSL report said multiple players credibly reported that Burke “verbally and emotionally abused players” and “used racial slurs, made racially insensitive and offensive jokes.”
Susan Bogart, Dames’ attorney, said in a statement that the league did not notify Dames of the suspension.
“Mr. Dames did not engage in any conduct while coaching in the NWSL that would warrant any disciplinary action let alone a permanent ban from the NWSL,” Bogart said.
Riley, Burke, Holly, Harrington and the Portland Thorns did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.
Kelly Hoffman, LaHue’s attorney, said in an email Monday night that “Ms. LaHue continues to deny the allegations made against her. Notwithstanding the issues presented in her case, she supports the NWSL in its efforts to take corrective action.
A Chicago Red Stars spokesperson said in an email late Monday that the team is aware of the disciplinary action and is “working cooperatively with the league to satisfy the fine.”
Investigations by the NWSL and Yates highlighted reports in 2021 by The Athletic and The Washington Post that described accusations of sexual and verbal abuse against women’s league coaches. These reports led to public protests by players and the resignation or firing of league executives. Weeks after the reports of alleged sexual and verbal abuse, five league coaches were linked to the allegations.
As part of Monday’s disciplinary action, four other teams – OL Reign, Gotham FC, Racing Louisville FC and North Carolina Courage – were fined between $50,000 and $200,000 for failing to follow up on allegations of misconduct.
Six other league officials were told that any future employment with the league would be dependent on attending training, “acknowledging wrongdoing and accepting personal responsibility for improper conduct” and “demonstrating a sincere commitment to correcting the wrongdoing.” behavior “.
Two of the six officials were former Houston Dash coach Vera Pauw and former OL Reign coach Farid Benstiti. The NWSL report said Pauw and Benstiti “shamed the players for their weight”.
In a statement after the NWSL report was released in December, Pauw said she wanted to “rebut all allegations” made against her in the report. Benstiti could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday evening.
April Rubin contributed report.