- The Women’s National Soccer League was at the center of a highly publicized abuse scandal in 2020 and 2021.
- Several investigations, including one by the NWSL and NWSLPA, “found widespread misconduct” across the league.
- As a result, the NWSL fined $2.9 million and issued lifetime bans to several former coaches.
Calls for accountability have been ringing in the National Women’s Soccer League ever since news of coaching abuses in the league first surfaced.
Now – more than a year after the abuse first came to light and after two month-long investigations into “widespread misconduct targeting NWSL players” – the league has sanctioned multiple responsible individuals and franchises.
Four former coaches – Paul Riley, Christy Holly, Rory Dames and Richie Burke – received lifetime bans from the league as a result of their infractions, which included sexual and emotional abuse, as well as a number of other infractions.
“The League will continue to prioritize implementing and improving policies, programs and systems that put the health and safety of our players first,” NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement. “These actions are fundamental to the future of our league, especially as we build a league that strengthens our players’ ability to succeed and prosper on and off the pitch.
“As part of our commitment to accountability and deterrence, the league has determined that further corrective action with respect to certain organizations and individuals identified in the joint investigative report is appropriate and necessary,” it added.
Two more — former Utah Royals head coach Craig Harrington and former NJ/NY Gotham CEO Alyse LaHue — received two-year suspensions, after which their return to the league would require them to “admit wrongdoing and accept personal responsibility for misconduct, participate in training and demonstrate sincere commitment to correcting behavior.
And while they didn’t receive suspensions, six others – Farid Benstiti, James Clarkson, Vera Pauw, Amanda Cromwell, Sam Greene and Aline Reis – will only be eligible to return to the league if they meet the same requirements as Harrington and LaHue.
“No sanctions will ever be enough to undo the harm that too many players have suffered,” NWSLPA president Tori Huster said in a players union statement. “By taking away our power, players have made a complete and complete overhaul of the NWSL ecosystem, from the League office to club property and staff, with new rules and systems to protect player safety.”
In addition to personal sanctions, six clubs were fined between $50,000 and $1.5 million. A total of $2.9 million in fines were imposed on the Chicago Red Stars, Portland Thorns, North Carolina Courage, Racing Louisville FC, OL Reign and Gotham FC – all of whom harbored criminals or were complicit in misconduct within their ranks.
“The league and its clubs have taken significant steps to begin this structural reform and to understand and accept the continued commitment to improving league standards, which is essential to building a safe and positive environment for our players, staff, fans and partners,” said Berman. he said. “The Board of Governors hired me with a very specific mandate to drive this transformation. These changes will require leadership, accountability, funding and a willingness to adopt a new way of doing business.
“Our league and clubs have committed to making these changes and will do so with the ongoing contributions of the NWSL Players Association to make the NWSL the league that sets the standard for the future of the sport.”