by Paul Kennedy
The NWSL has issued lifetime bans or suspensions to six individuals and made future employment conditional for six more coaches in disciplinary action taken in connection with widespread misconduct within the league dating back to its early days.
In addition, six clubs were issued fines ranging from $50,000 to $1.5 million..
What the league described as "corrective action" was taken in response to the findings of the Joint Investigative Report released in December.
The report included recommendations on reforms to be made in the league office and at clubs, but the league was given the authority to take action against individuals and clubs.
Penalties were assigned according to a tiered system that took into account, among other things, the severity of the misconduct, how often it occurred and whether there was retaliatory conduct. Mitigating factors that reduced the penalties included how forthcoming individuals or clubs were about what happened and corrective action taken.
Level 1: Permanent exclusion from NWSL.
1. Former Portland Timbers, Western New York Flash and North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley.
2. Former Sky Blue FC and Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly.
3. Former Chicago Red Stars head coach Rory Dames.
4. Former Washington Spirit head coach Richie Burke;
Level 2:Suspension and conditional future employment in NWSL.
1. Former Chicago Red Stars assistant and Utah Royals head coach Craig Harrington
2. Former Sky Blue FC and Gotham FC executive Alyse LaHue.
(Both are ineligible to work in the NWSL in any capacity for two years, i.e., until at least Jan. 9, 2025. To qualify for future employment at the commissioner's sole discretion, each must acknowledge wrongdoing, accept personal responsibility for inappropriate conduct, participate in training, and demonstrate a sincere commitment to correct the behavior.)
Level 3: Conditional future employment in NWSL.
1. Former OL Reign head coach Farid Benstiti.
2. Former Houston Dash head coach and general manager James Clarkson.
3. Former Houston Dash head coach Vera Pauw.
4. Former Orlando Pride head coach Amanda Cromwell.
5. Former Orlando Pride assistant coach Sam Greene.
6. Former Orlando Pride assistant coach Aline Reis.
(To qualify for future employment at the commissioner's sole discretion, each must acknowledge wrongdoing, accept personal responsibility for inappropriate conduct, participate in training, and demonstrate a sincere commitment to correct the behavior.)
Level 1: Not less than $1 million and systemic changes.
1. Chicago Red Stars: $1.5 million. Majority owner Arnim Whisler is selling the Red Stars.
2. Portland Thorns: $1 million (previously announced by owner Merritt Paulson as a pledge to support the establishment of an NWSL Player Safety Office). Paulson is selling the Thorns.
Level 2: Not less than $100,000.
1. Racing Louisville: $200,000. Racing Louisville will be required to hire a sporting staff (coaches and general managers) that is completely distinct from the men’s team Louisville City FC with which it shares ownership, and the Racing Louisville staff must report directly into ownership.
2. North Carolina Courage: $100,000. The Courage will be required to hire a sporting staff (coaches and general managers) that is completely distinct from the men’s team North Carolina FC with which it shares ownership, and the Courage staff must report directly into ownership.
Level 3: Not less than $50,000.
1. OL Reign: $50,000.
2. Gotham FC: $50,000.
No penalties issued:
1. Washington Spirit: The NWSL forced Steve Baldwin, the then-CEO and controlling owner, to sell the club to Y. Michele Kang. Due to the change in club ownership in 2022 and increased staffing, the league imposed no sanctions.
2. Kansas City Current: Several players raised concerns about being mistreated or retaliation upon raising those concerns, but no sanctions were imposed because there was no finding that the Current retaliated against the players.
In the NWSL's statement on corrective action, the NWSL league office and U.S. Soccer were both listed under "Level 1" regarding organizational sanctions.
It noted the league has undertaken "systemic changes" — spent millions of dollars on its own investigations and with the NWSLPA so that reforms could be implemented and invested in resources on reforms and initiatives to create an environment that prioritizes the health and safety of players.
Regarding U.S. Soccer, the NWSL noted it has no authority over the federation, but that it has representation on the U.S. Soccer Participant Safety Taskforce — six current players or executives — and will work collaboratively with U.S. Soccer in its efforts to improve the girls and women’s soccer ecosystem.
Seven individuals who formerly worked at the NWSL or U.S. Soccer were named in the December report — including former U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati — but no further action was taken against them. The league noted none currently works in the league.