Investigation finds 'systemic,' 'heartbreaking' abuse in women's soccer, and failures at highest level of sport

A U.S. Soccer-commissioned investigation into abuse throughout women's soccer unearthed new allegations of verbal, emotional and sexual misconduct at the highest levels of the sport, and found that coaches, executives, the National Women's Soccer League and the federation itself "failed" countless players.

U.S. Soccer on Monday released the results of the yearlong investigation, which was led by former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.

"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," Yates' 172-page report read. "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."

U.S. Soccer tabbed Yates to lead the investigation after allegations of sexual harassment and coercion against longtime NWSL coach Paul Riley led to a league-wide reckoning. Yates' report includes allegations that were previously unreported, including allegations of sexual misconduct against then-Racing Louisville head coach Christy Holly, who was fired for cause last year.

Holly, who is male, called a player, Erin Simon, in for a film session and told her that he'd touch “for every pass [she] f***ed up,” according to Yates' report. He proceeded to “push his hands down her pants and up her shirt.”

Yates and her investigative team interviewed over 200 people, and wrote that they "heard report after report of relentless, degrading tirades; manipulation that was about power, not improving performance; and retaliation against those who attempted to come forward. Even more disturbing were the stories of sexual misconduct.

"Players described a pattern of sexually charged comments, unwanted sexual advances and sexual touching, and coercive sexual intercourse."

The investigation found that NWSL teams, the league and U.S. Soccer, the sport's national governing body, which previously ran the NWSL, "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.

"As a result, abusive coaches moved from team to team, laundered by press releases thanking them for their service, and positive references from teams that minimized or even concealed misconduct. Those at the NWSL and USSF in a position to correct the record stayed silent. And no one at the teams, the League, or the Federation demanded better of coaches."

In a statement alongside the release of Yates' report, U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone said: “This investigation’s findings are heartbreaking and deeply troubling. The abuse described is inexcusable and has no place on any playing field, in any training facility or workplace.

Cone said that the federation is "taking the immediate action that we can today, and will convene leaders in soccer at all levels across the country to collaborate on the recommendations so we can create meaningful, long-lasting change throughout the soccer ecosystem.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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