The National Women’s Soccer League and its Players Association have released their long-awaited report resulting from a 14-month joint investigation into the rampant abuse plaguing the league.
The report — written by attorneys from Covington & Burling LLP and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP representing the league and the NWSLPA, respectively — “found widespread misconduct directed at NWSL players,” an “underlying culture” that “created fertile ground for misconduct to go unreported,” and failure among the “institutions meant to investigate and address misconduct” to effectively do so.
The report recommended dozens of changes the league should enact in order to further protect NWSL players and employees, including strengthening its anti-harassment policies, creating and following guidelines to address “appropriate interactions between club staff and players,” implementing trainings on such policies, improving hiring practices, amending reporting procedures, and increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
“This report clearly reflects how our league systemically failed to protect our players. On behalf of the Board and the league, let me first and foremost sincerely apologize to our players for those failures and missteps,” NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement. “They deserve, at a minimum, a safe and secure environment to participate at the highest level in a sport they love, and they have my unwavering commitment that delivering that change will remain a priority each and every day.
“Our players’ bravery prompted this comprehensive and unprecedented investigation, which has left no stone unturned, and will be critical to informing our future as we work to heal this league, take corrective action and implement systemic reform,” she added. “We are committed to making all the necessary changes to create a safe and positive environment for our players, staff and fans.”
Launched in the fall of 2021, the joint investigation came in direct response to reporting that several NWSL coaches had engaged in disturbing misconduct over the course of their tenures. At various clubs, team owners and front office executives helped cover up said abuses, and in at least one case, their efforts to conceal the truth led the perpetrator to take a job elsewhere in the league.
The joint investigation notes that more than half of the league’s teams parted ways with their head coaches or general managers in 2021. And in each of those instances, misconduct — “in some cases misconduct that had persisted for years” — was at the root of those departures.
The Yates report, a concurrent, year-long independent investigation commissioned by US Soccer and led by former United States Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, similarly detailed a culture in which “abuse and misconduct — verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct — had become systemic, spanning multiple teams, coaches, and victims.”
The abuse in the NWSL was so pervasive, in fact, that Yates later told Insider she couldn’t look into other coaches or executives credibly accused of misconduct because it was “important that this investigation not go on forever.”
Following the publication of the Yates report, the NWSLPA reiterated that the joint investigation was meant to serve as a “vehicle for formulating a clear, accurate, and evidence-based set of permanent recommendations to NWSL in order to achieve our fundamental goal: protecting players now and in the future.”
The joint investigative team said it “hopes that this Report will inform and contribute to the continued change necessary to ensure that players in the League are safe, secure, and empowered.” However, they stopped short of recommending punishments for any of the perpetrators named in the report.
Instead, that responsibility will fall to Berman, who says she and other league executives will analyze the report “to better understand what further action needs to be taken in the short, medium, and long term.”
“In addition, while the league has already taken corrective action based on findings made by the Joint Investigative Team in the 2022 season, the league will consider additional corrective action to ensure accountability based on the findings detailed in the Joint Investigation Report,” she added.