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#NoMoreSilence: Uncovering a Culture of Abuse in the NWSL

Updated: Aug 3, 2022

Picture this: you’re sitting at your laptop, and after hearing some buzz about allegations of abuse in the NWSL, you decide to Google the situation. You get super creative with your search and enter, “Abuse in the NWSL.” Here are the titles of just some of the articles you would find:

  • “Rory Dames Accused of Verbal, Emotional Abuse After Resignation as Chicago Red Stars Coach”

  • “Red Stars’ Dames Resigns Amidst Abuse Allegations; NWSL Players Say U.S. Soccer Failed to Act”

  • “Again and Again. Women’s Pro Soccer Players Are Just the Latest to Deal with Abuse”

  • “‘This Guy Has a Pattern’: Amid Institutional Failure, Former NWSL Players Accuse Prominent Coach of Sexual Coercion”

  • “Dames Becomes Fifth Male NWSL Coach to Resign in 12 Months Amidst Abuse Claims”

  • “A Timeline of the Abuse Allegations, Protests, and Negotiations that Have Rocked the NWSL”

  • “NWSL Agrees to Several Demands from Players in Wake of Abuse Scandals”

  • “NWSL Sexual Abuse Scandal: Female Athletes Deserve Better”

Within the past few months, courageous NWSL athletes decided that enough was enough. Athletes across all teams stood in solidarity with one another as they championed the #NoMoreSilence campaign, one which referred to the six years wherein league leadership did nothing to investigate claims of emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse.[1]

Brave survivors came forward both to share their stories and to put pressure on league administration to act accordingly. As each new player came forward with her own story, it seemingly empowered the next one to follow suit.

As of now, players from the Washington Spirit, Portland Thorns, and Chicago Red Stars have come forward with similar allegations of abuse from within their organizations. Head coach Richie Burke of the Washington Spirit was fired midseason amid allegations of verbal and emotional abuse, which presented itself as racially insensitive comments, threats, and personal insults against players.[2] After hiring an independent third party to evaluate the allegations, the NWSL released findings that substantiated the claims.[3] The League determined that Burke had violated its anti-harassment policy and permanently banned him from working with NWSL players in any capacity.[4]

In the wake of Burke’s firing, Spirit players came forward with a series of demands from upper management—namely for the organization’s CEO, Steve Baldwin, to step down from his role and sell the team. The powerful statement penned by the athletes can be found at the following link:

Even still, allegations of abuse continued. Head coach Paul Riley of the North Carolina Courage was fired following allegations of verbal abuse and sexual coercion which occurred during his time as head coach of the Portland Thorns.[5] The allegations against him spanned “over a decade and across multiple teams.”[6] As details of the League’s mistreatment of the situation emerged, NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird resigned from her position just days after Riley was terminated.[7] Lisa Levine, the former general counsel of the NWSL, resigned as well.[8] It is important to note that these authority figures were permitted to resign—rather than be fired—from their positions despite their blatant disregard for the health and safety of the athletes.

The most recent development in the untangling of this cobweb of abuse came about last week when Christen Press, perhaps one of the most famous and talented players within women’s soccer today, came forward to corroborate stories of verbal and emotional abuse handed down from Chicago Red Stars head coach Rory Dames. Once again, however, Press made these allegations long ago—in fact, Becca Roux, executive director of the national team players’ union, confirmed that these allegations were reported as early as 2018.[9]

“I think Rory emotionally abuses players,” Press stated. “He doesn’t have a safe distance between himself and [them]. He uses his power and status as the coach to manipulate players and get close to them.”[10] Similar to the allegations made against North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley, Press—and the seven others speaking up beside her—claimed that nothing was done to mitigate the damages of this abhorrent behavior. However, in Dames’ case, players went not to the NWSL itself, but to straight to the top—the U.S. Soccer Federation.[11]

Their response, both to Press and the others? “Be quiet.”

The allegations against Dames, who was the longest-tenured coach in the NWSL when he was permitted to resign, were first reported to the public by the Washington Post. The Post conducted a series of private interviews and examined confidential records in the course of their investigation after allegations of abuse continued to arise from players. Per their investigation, the Post determined that players had seen Dames “cross a line” into the territory of verbal and emotional abuse, stating that he would control, berate, and humiliate players and often broke the boundaries of the player-coach relationship.[12]

In 2021 alone, five male NWSL coaches—including Dames—have been accused of misconduct, making it clear that this abuse is nowhere near an isolated incident.[13] May we tip our hats to all of the brave athletes who came forward over the past six years, to those who are currently taking a stand, and to those who are not yet ready to do so. We, as your fans, stand by you in your demand for #NoMoreSilence.

[1] [2] [3] Id. [4] Id. [5] [6] Id. [7] [8] Id. [9] [10] Id. [11] Id. [12] Id. [13] Id.

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