The NWSL and NWSL Players Association released the full report of their joint investigation on Wednesday. The investigation was conducted over 14 months with law firms Covington & Burling LLP alongside Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP and the full report is a 128 pages document. The information was released two months after the U.S. Soccer commissioned an independent investigation of allegations of past abusive behavior and sexual misconduct in women's professional soccer.
The joint investigation consists of similar findings to the prior Yates report that details allegations of abusive behaviors by former NWSL head coaches and the owners and executives that enabled environments of systemic abuse. Both reports have now confirmed "widespread misconduct directed at NWSL players" at "the vast majority of clubs at various times from the earliest years to the present."
The full report can be found here, and includes past and new findings on the Portland Thorns, Chicago Red Stars, Racing Louisville FC, and Washington Spirit. The report also gives new insights on wrongdoings with Houston Dash, Kansas City Current, NJ/NY Gotham FC (formerly Sky Blue FC), OL Reign, Orlando Pride, Utah Royals FC.
"This report clearly reflects how our league systemically failed to protect our players. On behalf of the Board and the league, let me first and foremost sincerely apologize to our players for those failures and missteps. They deserve, at a minimum, a safe and secure environment to participate at the highest level in a sport they love, and they have my unwavering commitment that delivering that change will remain a priority each and every day," said NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman in a statement.
"I also commend and am grateful for the courage current and former players demonstrated in advocating for themselves, their teammates and the future of our sport. Our players' bravery prompted this comprehensive and unprecedented investigation, which has left no stone unturned, and will be critical to informing our future as we work to heal this league, take corrective action and implement systemic reform. We are committed to making all the necessary changes to create a safe and positive environment for our players, staff and fans."
The Commissioner had previously made comments on the ongoing investigation during the 2022 NWSL Championship final. Berman outlined a three-pronged approach to the investigation "First, seeking the truth. Second, corrective action, and third, systemic reform." The league has now outlined 14 next steps for the future, and some have already been initiated ahead of the 2023 regular season.
The key steps include:
- Hiring a Chief People & Culture Officer, as well as a Player Safety Officer at the league.
- Revising league and club minimum standards and staffing / reporting requirements with an emphasis on having clubs dedicate full-time employees to the Human Resources and General Manager positions, ensuring autonomy of the medical staff, and requiring clubs to designate their own Player Safety Officers to provide in-market support to the NWSL Player Safety Officer.
- Creating and executing trainings for players, coaches, and club and league staff.
- Engaging NWSL, WPS and WUSA alumni, which will be focused on improving former players' connectivity to the league, seeking their perspective and providing them with professional resources.
- Establishing new (or revising current) policies:
- A Non-Fraternization Policy that will create clear rules regarding romantic and/or sexual relationships and/or encounters between players and staff.
- An Employment Approval Policy to increase vetting requirements and expand its applicability to additional new hires.
- An Alcohol Policy to establish standards around alcohol use in social settings where players and club staff are present.
- Revising the Player Handbook with additional informational resources and updated policies.
- Prohibiting clubs from providing housing to club staff at the same location as players.
- Setting expectations through the implementation of Codes of Conduct for players, coaches and fans across the league.
- Establishing an NWSL Advisory Council of subject matter experts to provide diverse perspectives on the future of the league, particularly as it relates to culture and systemic reform.
- Launching a Diversity Equity & Inclusion Taskforce focused on all "isms" and proactive measures to confront and address biases.
- Building a proactive program to attract and recruit highly qualified coaches to the NWSL.
- Initiative will be launched at the 2023 United Soccer Coaches Convention.
- Implementing a new investigation protocol that will continue consultation with the NWSLPA.
- Expanding reach of RealResponse to all clubs in order to ensure players are aware of the reporting lines available to them and to improve management of the reporting system.
- Establishing and communicating role clarity between clubs, the NWSL, U.S. Soccer and SafeSport to eliminate confusion surrounding investigation responsibility and ownership.
Players ignite the change they want to see in NWSL
The league has navigated myriad challenges and public opinion fallout after reports of sexual misconduct, racism, and harassment surfaced in 2021. NWSLPA Executive Director Meghann Burke credits the efforts and bravery of players who came forward to share their stories and lead the way for change in the league.
"Last October, players vowed that we would be relentless in our pursuit of a league that is worthy of the incredible athletes in it. This report is a critical part of that effort. Only when we understand the facts can we make progress toward accountability and transformational change," said NWSLPA Executive Director Meghann Burke. "While this report is the culmination of a tireless effort by many, it was players who took the first steps to bring us to this moment. When faced with the choice between silence versus speaking out at real personal risk, players who demanded a reckoning gave the NWSL a chance at transformation. They deserve our gratitude and respect.
"We call on the league, U.S. Soccer, NWSL clubs, and everyone in leadership throughout the soccer ecosystem to demonstrate the same courage and commitment to eradicating misconduct that our players have shown," Burke added. "We also recognize that the abuse and misconduct our players have endured is far too common in sports and in the workplace. We hope that this joint investigation framework will provide a roadmap to other athletes and workers who seek something so basic: safety and dignity at work."
U.S. Soccer reaction
In response to the report, U.S. Soccer said in a statement, "We are grateful to the NWSL and NWSLPA for their important efforts to understand the factors that led to abuse in women's professional soccer and to identify meaningful steps to ensure player safety moving forward. U.S. Soccer has closely communicated and cooperated with the NWSL and NWSLPA throughout their investigation. We share a common goal of ensuring a safe, healthy environment for players, and look forward to continuing to work with them to enact systemic change across our game."