Report Finds Systematic Sexual Misconduct in U.S. Women's Soccer

Last year, the United States Soccer Federation commissioned an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse within the U.S. Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Recently, a final investigative report was released, finding that sexual misconduct and emotional abuse are rampant throughout the league. Here is more on the systemic sexual abuse and misconduct in U.S. Women’s soccer.


Sexual Abuse and Misconduct Allegations Raised


In 2021, The Athletic published an article in which former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim raised sexual abuse and misconduct allegations concerning former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley. The magazine reported that the Portland Thorns fired Riley in 2015 for misconduct and that the league kept the reasons for his dismissal private, thereby allowing Riley to be hired by another NWSL team. The claims in the article led U.S. Soccer to commission an investigation headed by former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates and the law firm King & Spaulding.


The Yates Investigation


The Yates investigation focused on the conduct of three former coaches, Riley, Rory Dames of the Chicago Red Stars, and Christy Holly of Racing Louisville. After interviewing over 200 people and reviewing more than 80,000 documents, investigators found that these coaches committed multiple acts of sexual misconduct while coaching for the league. In addition, it was learned that team owners, U.S. Soccer officials, and others failed to adequately respond to warnings and complaints from players about these individuals.


The Thorns investigated Riley in 2015, reported its findings to the league, and did not renew his contract. However, Riley continued coaching and obtained a coaching position with the Western New York Flash team. According to the report, Thorns leadership was less than cooperative during the sexual misconduct investigation. Yates noted, “The Portland Thorns interfered with our access to relevant witnesses and raised specious legal arguments in an attempt to impede our use of relevant documents.”


Coach Christy Holly was terminated for cause. However, his former team Racing Louisville declined to state the reason publicly. According to the Yates report, Racing Louisville “refused to produce documents concerning Christy Holly and would not permit witnesses (even former employees) to answer relevant questions regarding Holly’s tenure, citing non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements it signed with Holly.”


Likewise, Rory Dames’s team, the Chicago Red Stars, “unnecessarily delayed the production of relevant documents over the course of nearly nine months.”


The Yates sexual misconduct report summary said, “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 investigators also found that the abusive conduct was pervasive and normalized within the league’s culture. The report stated that “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.”


At its conclusion, the Yates report recommendations included the following:

  • Accurate disclosure of coach misconduct to the league and soccer federation
  • Detailed screening of potential coaches, and
  • Conducting timely investigations into abuse allegations


According to a recent report, “U.S. Soccer said its board of directors and a leadership team would immediately begin implementing the report’s recommendations.”


The report and players claim the league was very aware of the sexual misconduct and failed to take action. When the allegations came to light, former player Alex Morgan posted: “The league was informed of these allegations multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate the allegations. The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse.”


The sexual misconduct went on for years and was present throughout the organization. Unfortunately, like the leadership in USA Gymnastics, the league’s inaction led to countless players being subjected to sexual harassment and abuse.


Contact an Experienced Sexual Abuse Injury Attorney

Sexual misconduct and abuse can persist for years before survivors are heard and able to process their trauma. When a person suffers sexual abuse personal injury, they should be able to seek compensation for their damages. Every survivor deserves to have the opportunity to hold their abusers accountable. If you have been the victim of rape, sexual abuse, or other sexual violence, you want an experienced and compassionate sexual abuse injury attorney on your side. Bonina & Bonina, P.C. understand the importance of helping sexual abuse survivors get the help they need for their trauma. Contact us online or call us at 1-888-MEDLAW1 to schedule your free consultation. Home and hospital visits are available. Se Habla Español.