On Monday, the U.S. Soccer Federation released a report on its yearlong investigation into sexual misconduct allegations in the National Women’s Soccer League, which found “systemic abuse” of the league’s players.

The federation had hired Sally Yates, a former deputy attorney general, and the law firm King & Spalding on Oct. 2, 2021, to investigate allegations made in The Athletic about Paul Riley, one of the league’s winningest head coaches.

“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 says.

What did the report find?

The 172-page report details findings from over 200 interviews, including more than 100 interviews with current and former National Women’s Soccer League and U.S. National Team players, as well as from 89,000 documents made available by the Federation.

The report includes recommendations on how to prevent the misconduct from occurring again.

“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,” the report says. “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. They include members of the U.S. Women’s National Team (“National Team”), veterans of multiple World Cup and Olympic tournaments and graduates of legendary NCAA Division I soccer programs.” 

The accusations that led to the investigation

In The Athletic’s article that led to the investigation, Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly, two of Riley’s former players, spoke out on the coach’s inappropriate behavior.

At one point, Riley invited Shim to dinner, which Shim said felt more like a date since the coach ordered for her, poured her wine and didn’t talk about soccer, according to the new report. He reportedly said he wanted her to come home with him that night — she refused — and he continued making sexual advances such as inviting her to stay in his hotel room to watch the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

While the new report focused on Riley, Christy Holly of Racing Louisville and Rory Dames of the Chicago Red Stars, it addresses inappropriate misconduct from multiple coaches and league executives, including former Utah Royals head coach Craig Harrington.

The investigation revealed “verbal and emotional abuse, sexually charged remarks and coercive sexual contact,” it says.

The scope of the abuse

The report begins with Erin Simon’s story of being invited to Holly’s house last year to watch film, where “he told her he was going to touch her” for every mistake she made.

Investigators found that teams failed to alert other teams of coaches’ misconduct and even thanked the coaches for their service, allowing them to continue coaching in the league.

“Teams, the League and the Federation not only repeatedly failed to respond appropriately when confronted with player reports and evidence of abuse, they also failed to institute basic measures to prevent and address it, even as some leaders privately acknowledged the need for workplace protections,” the report states.

Yates said investigators received information pertaining to conditions outside the National Women’s Soccer League, including at the youth soccer level, but “pursued those facts only to the extent they were relevant to our investigation concerning the NWSL.”

Prior to coaching the Chicago Red Stars, Dames coached a youth soccer team. Former players on that team told investigators that Dames created a “sexualized team environment” by talking about foreplay, oral sex and players’ sex lives, which even transitioned into sexual relationships in some cases. He still owns his youth team, according to the report.

What are players and U.S. Soccer officials saying?

Federation President Cindy Parlow Cone released a statement on the U.S. Soccer website, addressing the findings and recommendations. She said that, in response to the report, the federation will create an Office of Participant Safety, publish records from SafeSport’s Centralized Disciplinary Database and mandate standards for background checks of all U.S. Soccer members.

“As a former player, as a coach, as the president of soccer’s national governing body, I am heartbroken by the contents of the report, which make clear that systemic changes are needed at every level of our game,” she said in her statement. “The abuse described in the report is entirely inexcusable and has no place in soccer, on or off the field.”

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Shim released a joint statement with Farrelly and Simon on Twitter. Several players, including national team members Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, have retweeted the statement.

“It is time for action, accountability and change,” the statement said. “Owners who have driven a culture of disrespect, who are complicit in abusing their own players, have no place in this league and should be removed from governance immediately.”

One former national team player, Sydney LeRoux, called for those with serious allegations made against them to no longer be involved with the sport. LeRoux currently plays for Angel City FC.

“It’s my belief that when serious allegations are brought to you and you ignore us... you should have absolutely nothing to do with this sport ever again. Period,” she said on Twitter.

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