US women soccer players endured ‘systemic’ emotional abuse, sexual misconduct, report claims

An investigative report released Monday by the U.S. Soccer Federation alleged that emotional abuse and sexual misconduct have been “systemic” at the highest echelons of women’s professional soccer.

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“Abuse in the (National Women’s Soccer League) 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,” former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates wrote in her report on the investigation.

The report also revealed that the sport’s governing bodies and team executives failed repeatedly to heed warnings about questionable behavior or to punish coaches suspected of abusing players, according to The Washington Post.

According to The New York Times, the report included accounts of one coach calling a player to review game film but showing her pornography instead. “Another (coach) was notorious at the highest levels of women’s soccer for alternately berating his players and then quizzing them about their sex lives,” the newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, a third coach was fired after reportedly coercing multiple players into sexual relationships, and team leadership publicly wished him well after he was hired by a rival club, the Times reported.

According to The Associated Press, U.S. Soccer commissioned the investigation by Yates and the law firm King & Spalding after former players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim publicly alleged 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, NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird stepped down and five of the league’s 10 head coaches were either fired or stepped down last season amid misconduct allegations.

“Players described a pattern of sexually charged comments, unwanted sexual advances and sexual touching, and coercive sexual intercourse,” Yates wrote in the executive summary of her report, adding, “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.”

- The Associated Press contributed to this report.