U.S. women's stars demand accountability from U.S. Soccer: 'It stood by as abuse continued to occur unchecked'
by Paul Kennedy
Nine of the best U.S. women's players of their generation have written to U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone and former president Carlos Cordeiro, her rival in the current presidential race, demanding accountability from the federation for abuse in women's and girls soccer.
This is from the statement from Christen Press, Crystal Dunn, Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, Sam Mewis, Alex Morgan, Kelley O’Hara, Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn:
“In both of your campaign platforms to be re-elected as Presidents of USSF, you discussed the need to look forward, not back. But without true accountability for the past, there is no promising future. For years, you allowed coaches and owners to rampantly abuse players. This unchecked and unpunished power endangered the safety, well-being, and careers of far too many women and girls. We suffered so that you could protect your bottom line.”
The open letter comes a day after a report in the Washington Post that Rory Dames (photo), the former Chicago Red Stars coach, had been accused of misconduct with youth players decades earlier at his Illinois youth club, Eclipse.
Dames, who coached the Red Stars since the NWSL's start in 2013, quit abruptly after the Red Stars lost in the 2021 NWSL final to the Washington Spirit and shortly before a Washington Post report about abuse connected to his tenure with the Red Stars.
In 2018, Press, who played 63 games over four seasons with the Red Stars (2014-17), filed a formal complaint against Dames to U.S. Soccer, which was Press' employer. An investigation was conducted, but Dames continued to coach the NWSL team. The nature of the investigation -- who conducted it? who was interviewed? -- and its findings have never been revealed.
In their letter on Wednesday, the nine U.S. women's players wrote:
"The allegations documented in The Washington Post on Tuesday -- of systemic, egregious, and horrifying abuse of young girls by their soccer coaches -- are sickening. But what is worse is that this is yet another instance where the willful inaction of USSF's leadership jeopardized the health and safety of its players.
"Over the years, while we played on the USWNT and in the National Women's Soccer League, many of us reported to USSF instances where, as adults, we experienced abusive conduct by our coaches. Now we have learned that this abusive treatment also was repeatedly reported by minors and that USSF failed to respond to protect these young players. That is utterly disheartening."
Widespread abuse within NWSL. In 2021, three other NWSL head coaches -- the North Carolina Courage's Paul Riley, Racing Louisville's Christy Holly and Washington's Richie Burke -- were fired for cause or amid charges of abuse, and another head coach -- OL Reign's Farid Benstiti -- resigned under pressure after allegations of abusive comments were made. Gotham FC general manager Alyse LaHue was dismissed for violations of the league’s new anti-harassment policy, allegations she denied.
Following a report by The Athletic in which two of Riley's former players at the Portland Thorns, Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, accused him of sexual coercion and misconduct, U.S, Soccer announced former U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates would lead an external investigation into the behavior of Riley and the other NWSL coaches fired in 2021 for abusive behavior and how their former employers responded. It is only one of several investigations into abuse within the NWSL being undertaken.
In their letter on Wednesday, the nine U.S. women's players added:
"Last year, many of our colleagues courageously spoke out about the verbal, emotional, and physical abuse they suffered during their time in the NWSL. Their bravery sparked an important reckoning and reflection in our sport, both here and abroad. But these players never should have had to turn to the press to protect themselves and future generations. USSF had the obligation to protect its players -- yet it stood by as abuse continued to occur unchecked. For starters, USSF should have immediately removed coaching licenses from abusers. Instead, USSF allowed those individuals to coach while saying it would investigate. USSF failed to do the bare minimum -- to keep us and the young girls who play in the youth leagues safe."
Dames' coaching license suspended. Susan Bogart, Dames' attorney, told the Washington Post that the allegations of sexual harassment and grooming against Dames in its report on Tuesday were false. She also cited the 2018 investigation by U.S. Soccer, which "cleared Mr. Dames, issued no sanctions against him and expressly permitted him to continue coaching.” The Post reported that Dames' coaching license was only suspended, according to Bogart, after the federation was contacted. by the Post with some of the most recent allegations.
The nine U.S. women's players asked:
"We are writing to you today, on behalf of thousands of little girls across our country who play in the youth leagues, to demand full transparency and accountability in addressing these systemic problems. Where are the results of the investigation that you are spending USSF time and resources conducting? Has the investigation being conducted by Ms. Yates yielded any of this information that players are forced to report to media because you have not released the information or taken any action related to it? Do players experience fear of continued reprisals and retribution from USSF? Most importantly, what steps will you take to make sure that every girl and woman can play soccer safely in the USSF and the NWSL?"
On Tuesday, Soccer America asked Cone about long the investigation would take, whether the Yates' investigation would revisit the federation's 2018 investigation into Dames' behavior while he was at the Red Stars and whether it would extend to youth soccer. This is how she responded:
"We've given Sally full rein and full autonomy to take the investigation wherever she thinks it needs to go. We've given her all the resources, access to any documentation that we have. I'm not in direct contact with Sally. We put a group together that's communicating with her, so I know no more than you do. [That group is headed by the federation's independent directors.] Everyone on our board pretty much is conflicted except for independent directors."
In a statement to the media, a U.S. Soccer spokesperson stated the organization shared the concerns of the players. Cordeiro described the allegations in Tuesday's Washington Post report as "horrific." He said he was unaware of the 2018 investigation, which took place during the first year of his tenure as president, until the November Washington Post story.
He told ESPN that "U.S. Soccer doesn't have to wait for the [Yates] investigation to act. I agree with our women's players that U.S. Soccer should take immediate actions to make sure that all players are protected and nothing like this ever happens again."
U.S. Soccer's management role. In appointing Yates, U.S. Soccer acknowledged it played a major role in establishing the NWSL in 2013, provided administrative support to the league until 2020 and continued to financially support the NWSL in which most almost all of its national team players compete. It said it was committed to sharing the results of the investigation when it concludes.
The NWSL was launched by U.S. Soccer in 2013 to keep women's pro soccer alive following the collapse of two previous attempts at women's pro soccer by WUSA (2001-03) and WPS (2009-11).
U.S. Soccer has had no ownership interest in the NWSL LLC but performed what were described in its 2021 financial statement as "management, governance, operational, administrative, and advisory services for NWSL" under a management agreement that ended on Dec. 31, 2020.
In 2021, U.S. Soccer and the NWSL had what were termed a one-year "performance support agreement" to work cooperatively "to support and maintain high performance environments, share data and support the NWSL’s athletes and the growth of women’s soccer."