Women’s Soccer Bans Ex-Coaches and Fines Teams After Misconduct Report

The National Women’s Soccer League on Monday permanently banned four former coaches, suspended other league officials, and fined several teams, following a report last month that detailed alleged abuse and misconduct across the league.

Paul Riley, a former North Carolina Courage coach; Rory Dames, a former Chicago Red Stars coach; Richie Burke, a former Washington Spirit coach; and Christy Holly, a former Racing Louisville F.C. coach, were permanently banned from the league for alleged misconduct ranging from inappropriate comments to, in the case of Holly, groping a player.

The Red Stars were fined $1.5 million, and Portland Thorns F.C. were fined $1 million for failure to properly act on allegations of misconduct.

Craig Harrington, the former Utah Royal F.C. coach, and Alyse LaHue, the former general manager of Gotham F.C., each received two-year suspensions from the league. Harrington was found to have “made inappropriate sexual and objectifying comments,” and LaHue was found to have sent players inappropriate messages, the N.W.S.L. report said.

The league said in a statement on Monday that the sweeping disciplinary actions were based on a 128-page report released in December. The report, a joint effort organized by the N.W.S.L. and its players’ union, revealed a number of disturbing problems throughout the league, including instances of sexual abuse, unwanted sexual advances, emotional abuse, racist remarks, and retaliation against players who complained about how they were treated.

“Players from marginalized backgrounds, or with the least job security, were often targets of misconduct,” the report said. “At the same time, these players faced the greatest barriers to speaking out about or obtaining redress for what they experienced.”

Jessica Berman, the league’s commissioner, said in a statement that the “corrective action” announced on Monday was “appropriate and necessary.”

“The league will continue to prioritize implementing and enhancing the policies, programs and systems that put the health and safety of our players first,” Berman said. “These changes will require leadership, accountability, funding and a willingness to embrace this new way of conducting business.”

Last month’s report is similar to another released in October, from an investigation led by Sally Q. Yates, a former deputy attorney general, that detailed “systemic” verbal abuse and sexual misconduct by women’s soccer coaches and found that officials in the United States Soccer Federation, the National Women’s Soccer League and throughout American soccer had failed to act over the years on complaints from players.

Holly, while coaching Louisville, groped one of his players and sent her inappropriate text messages, according to the investigations. On one occasion, Holly invited a player to his home to watch video of a game, but instead masturbated in front of her and showed her pornography, the investigations found.

The investigations also found that Riley, who was fired from the North Carolina Courage in 2021, used his position to try to coerce at least three players into sexual relationships. One player said Riley made sexual advances toward her on several occasions, according to the reports.

Dames, who resigned from the Chicago Red Stars in 2021, was accused by the women’s soccer star Christen Press of “verbal and emotional abuse,” the N.W.S.L. report said. The investigation led by Yates also found that he had created a “sexualized team environment” at a Chicago youth club that “crossed the line to sexual relationships in multiple cases, though those relationships may have begun after the age of consent.”

The N.W.S.L. report said that several players credibly reported that Burke “verbally and emotionally abused players,” and “used racial slurs, made racially insensitive and offensive jokes.”

Riley,Dames,Burke, Holly, Harrington and the Portland Thorns did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.

Kelly Hoffman, a lawyer for LaHue, said in an email on Monday night that “Ms. LaHue continues to deny the allegations made against her. Notwithstanding the issues presented in her case, she supports the N.W.S.L. in its efforts towards corrective action.”

A spokesman for the Chicago Red Stars said in an email on Monday night that the team was aware of the disciplinary action and that it was “working with the league in a cooperative manner to satisfy the fine.”

The investigations led by the N.W.S.L. and Yates highlighted reports in 2021 by The Athletic and The Washington Post that described accusations of sexual and verbal abuse against coaches in the women’s league. Those reports led to public protests by players and the resignations or firings of league executives. Weeks after the reports of alleged sexual and verbal abuse, five coaches in the league were linked to the allegations.

As part of Monday’s disciplinary actions, four others teams — OL Reign, Gotham F.C., Racing Louisville F.C. and North Carolina Courage — were fined amounts ranging from $50,000 to $200,000 for failure to act on allegations of misconduct.

Six other league officials were told that any future employment with the league would depend on taking part in a training, “acknowledging wrongdoing and accepting personal responsibility for inappropriate conduct” and “demonstrating a sincere commitment to correcting behavior.”

Two of the six officials were Vera Pauw, a former coach of the Houston Dash, and Farid Benstiti, a former coach of the OL Reign. The N.W.S.L. report saidPauw andBenstiti, “shamed players for their weight.”

In a statement after the N.W.S.L. report was released in December,Pauw said she wanted to “refute every allegation” made against her in the report. Benstiti could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday night.

April Rubin contributed reporting.

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