Investigation into Women's Soccer Finds Proof of Sexual Misconduct, Emotional Abuse

Photo credit: Zhizhao Wu - Getty Images
Photo credit: Zhizhao Wu - Getty Images

An investigative report, commissioned by the United States Soccer Federation and published today, found multiple instances of sexual misconduct and emotional abuse by coaches in the National Women’s Soccer League—abuse that many U.S. Soccer executives, league owners, and coaches reportedly turned a blind eye toward for years.

According to the report—which was led by former attorney general Sally Q. Yates, working with law firm King & Spalding—Christy Holly, formerly the head coach of Racing Louisville, sexually assaulted a player, Erin Simon, while showing her playback videos of her matches, and on another occasion called her to his house for a meeting and instead showed her porn and masturbated in front of her. He was eventually terminated following an investigation, but the details of his abuse remain missing from his employment records, meaning potential employers would likely not see evidence of his misconduct in his professional background check.

The report also noted that Paul Riley, formerly a top coach at the U.S. Soccer League, pursued various players throughout his career, and in one instance benched a player who declined his advances. The player, Meleana Shim, whom Riley coached at the Portland Thorns, filed a report against him, leading the team to investigate and later fire him. The League learned of the report but failed to take action against Riley, even after another player filed a similar complaint against him, the investigation found.

A news article about Riley’s misconduct was published in The Athletic on September 30, 2021, and by the end of the year, half of the League’s 10 teams had parted ways with their head coaches following complaints from players, the investigation states.

Similarly, Rory Dames, formerly the coach of the Chicago Red Stars, regularly screamed at, insulted, and sexualized his players, and on more than one occasion embarked on sexual relationships with them, per the report. After years of complaints from players, an investigation into Dames's misconduct was made. Lydia Wahlke, then the U.S. Soccer Federation's chief legal officer received the report which proved many of the players' accusations, but failed to distribute the findings to the Federation, the report states. Eventually, Dames was allowed to resign from his position on the team, but today still heads his youth club, the Eclipse Select Soccer Club, in Chicago.

The investigative report concludes by saying that the U.S. Soccer League and the Federation blatantly ignored reports of abuse and misconduct from players for years, allowing abusive coaches to move from team to team without consequences, and allowing players—some of the best athletes in the world—to suffer for their careers at the hands of men in positions of power.

"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," the report states. "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."

Following the publication of the report, the League shared a statement saying it is thankful for the findings and will "learn from and take responsibility for the painful lessons of the past in order to move the League into a better future."

Read the full report here.

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