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6 takeaways from the report on sexual misconduct in women’s soccer


A National Women’s Soccer League game between Gotham F.C. and the Washington Spirit at Subaru Park in Chester, Pa., Oct. 6, 2021. A yearlong investigation found U.S. Soccer executives, NWSL owners and coaches at all levels of American soccer had turned a blind eye toward years of reports of abuse from players. (Monique Jaques/The New York Times)

By Jesús Jiménez


A report published earlier this week detailed “systemic” verbal abuse and sexual misconduct by coaches at the highest levels of women’s soccer in the United States, and found that leaders in the U.S. Soccer Federation, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and throughout U.S. soccer had failed to act over the years on reports from players.


The report was commissioned by U.S. Soccer, which asked Sally Q. Yates, a former U.S. deputy attorney general, and law firm King & Spalding to lead an investigation after news media reports documented accusations of sexual and verbal abuse against NWSL coaches.


Monday’s report focuses on three coaches — Christy Holly, Paul Riley and Rory Dames — highlighting a history of sexual misconduct allegations against them and executives’ failure to investigate and act on the accusations. It also warned that girls face abuse in youth soccer.


Riley and Dames did not respond to requests for comment Monday, and Holly declined to comment. Holly spoke with investigators and denied some, but not all, of the claims made against him. Through his lawyer, Dames declined to speak with investigators. Riley agreed to provide written responses but never did.


Here are six takeaways from the report:


Christy Holly


Holly was fired as the coach of Racing Louisville FC last year, during the team’s inaugural season, with minimal public explanation from the team. While accusations against Riley and Dames had been detailed in news media reports, the accusations against Holly were not publicly known.


The report found that Holly’s misconduct while coaching Louisville included sexual contact, inappropriate text messages, abuse of power and retaliation. In one instance, Holly invited a player to his home to watch game film but instead masturbated in front of her and showed her pornography. While watching game film with the player on a separate occasion, Holly groped the player’s breasts and genitals whenever the film showed she had made a mistake.


Holly also sent the player nude pictures of himself and asked her to send sexual pictures of herself to him, according to the report. The player said that she felt “guilted” and “forced” to send photos. The player told investigators that “Holly constantly reminded her to ‘loosen up,’ telling her that having ‘fun’ with him would improve her performance on the field.”


Paul Riley


Another narrative in the report centers on Paul Riley, who was fired from the North Carolina Courage last year. The report found that Riley had “leveraged his position” to coerce at least three players into sexual relationships.


“Paul Riley’s abuse was prolonged and wide-ranging,” the report said. “It spanned multiple leagues, teams and players. It included emotional misconduct, abuse of power and sexual misconduct.”


One player said Riley made sexual advances toward her on several occasions. In one instance, the player said, Riley asked her to watch game film in his hotel room. When the player arrived at his room, she said, Riley answered the door wearing only underwear and told her to get on the bed. The player said she left once she realized that there was no game film on the television.


“I just didn’t feel safe,” the player said. “I didn’t enjoy playing. It was a bad situation.”


Rory Dames


The report also details accusations against Rory Dames, who resigned from the Chicago Red Stars last year and was also coach of the Chicago Eclipse Select youth soccer team. It found that he created a “sexualized team environment” at the youth club that “crossed the line to sexual relationships in multiple cases, though those relationships may have begun after the age of consent.” It also said that he verbally abused his players and that he joked about the age of consent for sexual activity.


One player who played for Dames on the Eclipse team said that on one occasion, Dames offered her a ride home from practice and asked her questions about sex. The player said that Dames “wouldn’t take me home until I answered the questions.”


The report also said that it was not uncommon for Dames to spend time alone with girls from youth teams without another adult present, including in their childhood bedrooms.


Lack of oversight


The report also detailed how allegations of abuse or misconduct were often not fully investigated. When they were, the accused coaches later had opportunities to coach elsewhere. The report found that several investigations across the league “failed to successfully root out misconduct.”


After the 2015 NWSL season, one player reported Riley’s sexual misconduct to the Portland Thorns, where he was then coaching, and the league. The Thorns conducted an investigation that lasted one week, and Riley was promptly terminated from the team. But the Thorns did not inform their players, other teams or the public about the reason for Riley’s termination. Riley was later hired by another women’s league team.


The report said that several players tried to raise concerns about Dames over the years, including in 2014, 2015 and 2018. A report by the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association in 2018 prompted Lydia Wahlke, U.S. Soccer’s chief legal officer, to hire outside counsel to investigate Dames. By October 2018, the investigation had found that Dames created “a cycle of emotional abuse and manipulation” at the Chicago Red Stars. But Wahlke did not share the findings with the Red Stars or the NWSL.


One player said she had realized that reporting Dames’ conduct “was a lost cause.”


Youth soccer


The investigation did not directly examine youth soccer in the United States, but the report found several instances of verbal and sexual abuse of players.


“The culture of tolerating verbal abuse of players goes beyond the NWSL,” the report said. “Players also told us that their experiences of verbal abuse and blurred relationships with coaches in youth soccer impacted their ability to discern what was out of bounds in the NWSL.”


One example cited in the report details an anonymous complaint that Riley had created an “unsafe environment” in his FC Fury Development Academy girls’ program and that a coach in the program had “inappropriately touched a minor player.” The person making the complaint said that Riley had not reported the incident and expressed “fear of reprisal from Riley for speaking out,” adding that Riley is “known to be vindictive to anyone who crossed him.”


Recommendations


Among its recommendations, the report said that teams should be required to disclose coaches’ misconduct to their leagues to ensure that the coaches cannot move freely from one team to another and that the NWSL should be required to meaningfully vet its coaches and investigate allegations of misconduct.


The report also recommended that the NWSL conduct an annual training for players and coaches on issues of misconduct and harassment, and that teams designate an individual responsible for player safety.


The report also advised U.S. Soccer to examine whether it should institute other measures in youth soccer to protect young players.

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