The National Women’s Soccer League and its players’ union have released a 128-page independent investigation report following a 14-month inquiry into accusations of “discrimination, harassment, abuse (physical, emotional or sexual) and retaliation” within the women’s professional league.
The joint investigative team, which included members from two law firms, found “widespread misconduct directed at NWSL players” by those in positions of power.
The report concluded that beyond the previously reported instances of sexual abuse and manipulation, there have been yearslong “volatile and manipulative working conditions” for players that “has occurred at the vast majority of NWSL clubs at various times, from the earliest years of the League to the present.”
The now 12-team league was founded in 2012.
Jessica Berman, NWSL commissioner since March, apologized for previous conduct within the league.
“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,” she stated.
“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.”
Meghann Burke, executive director of the players’ union, said the players who chose to speak up deserve 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.
The joint investigative team concluded their report by noting the dynamic of women playing professionally on teams owned by men.
“The individual incidents and recurrent practices detailed in this Report reflect the experiences of players, not only in isolated moments but also more broadly, as women playing soccer in a league historically owned and run by men,” the report says.
In October, a separate independent investigation commissioned by the US Soccer Federation and led by former acting Attorney General Sally Yates found systemic abuse and misconduct within women’s professional soccer in the United States. The report revealed the NWSL under the USSF failed to provide a safe environment for players.
Following Wednesday’s release of the new report, US Soccer released a statement acknowledging the misconduct which mirrored incidents detailed in the Yates report.
“U.S. Soccer has closely communicated and cooperated with the NWSL and (players union) 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,” the statement says.
US officials said a committee looking at implementing recommendations in the Yates report should announce “a robust action plan” by the end of January. It added a player-led safety task force has been formed.