NWSL investigation reportedly discovers misconduct in 'vast majority' of teams

Warning: This story contains depictions of alleged sexual misconduct and abuse.

A months-long investigation by the NWSL and its players' union reportedly found misconduct within the "vast majority" of clubs, according to the Washington Post.

The NWSL's findings, which were summed up in a 125-page report that was released Wednesday, include a new allegation of abuse against former Portland Thorns head coach Paul Riley and new information regarding various firings and suspensions throughout the league, per the Washington Post.

It's the second investigation looking into abuse in women's soccer this year. In October, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates released findings from her investigation, which was spearheaded by U.S. Soccer. Yates concluded that "abuse and misconduct had become systemic" within the NWSL in her report.

The probe completed by the NWSL and its players' union Wednesday came to a similar conclusion, saying, "misconduct against players has occurred at the vast majority of NWSL clubs at various times from the earliest years of the League to the present," according to the Washington Post.

NWSL players reportedly felt discouraged from reporting misconduct

Wednesday's report claims players worked in an environment that "dissuaded them from reporting misconduct." Players were allegedly reminded that the league was fragile and unstable and told they should be grateful to be there. All of those factors discouraged players from speaking out.

The report also contains a new allegation about Riley, who was fired from the North Carolina Courage last September after being accused of sexual coercion and making inappropriate comments. The new allegations claim Riley demanded Kaleigh Kurtz lost 14 pounds to remain a starter with the Courage. Kurtz also reportedly told investigators she felt like she was being groomed for sexual abuse, per the Washington Post.

Former NY/NJ Gotham FC general manager Alyse LaHue allegedly "made unwanted sexual advances toward a player," according to the report. LaHue was also accused of sending text messages to a player reading, "You were in my dream last night. Getting a massage," and "I don't see us as friends." LaHue denied those allegations through her attorney, according to the Washington Post.

Houston Dash coach and general manager James Clarkson, who was suspended in April, reportedly "communicated with players in a manner that created anxiety and fear for multiple players," per the report. Players reportedly felt "scared and attacked" following one run-in with Clarkson.

The report also claims U.S. Soccer did not investigate or address issues within the league. It said U.S. Soccer avoided taking responsibility for the failures within the NWSL.

The report urged the league to revise its anti-harassment policy, create guidelines on the appropriate ways to interact with players and require mandatory training on anti-bullying, anti-racism and anti-harassment, among other recommendations, per the Washington Post.

NWSL and NWSLPA release statement on investigation

In a joint statement with the NWSLPA, NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman apologized to the players for the league's "failures and missteps." Berman was hired in March after Lisa Baird stepped down after the allegations against Riley emerged.

Berman agreed with the reports findings, saying they show "how our league systemically failed to protect our players." She thanked the players from showing bravery and courage and advocating for themselves to make this investigation happen.

Berman called on the NWSL, teams and U.S. Soccer to unite to eradicate misconduct. She also outlined some of the steps the league has taken over the past 14 months to correct its failures. Those includes strengthening the league's anti-harassment policy, an enhanced hiring process, hiring a player safety officer, instituting training for players, coaches and league staff and providing guidelines on interactions with players, among many other procedures.

U.S. Soccer releases statement after NWSL, NWSLPA investigation concludes

U.S. Soccer released a statement Wednesday saying its "highest priority is participant safety at all levels of the game." It vowed to publicly unveil its plan to address all of the recommendations made in Yates' report by Jan. 31, 2023.

U.S. Soccer said it would continue to review the results of Wednesday's investigation, and stated the recommendations in that report will "inform our actions going forward."

As we review the NWSL/NWSLPA report, we look forward to gaining an even deeper understanding of the cultural and systemic dynamics that led to abuse in women's professional soccer. We anticipate that information and recommendations contained in the report will inform our actions going forward and supplement the work underway by U.S. Soccer's Yates Implementation Committee and Participant Safety Taskforce.

U.S. Soccer remains deeply committed to ensuring that everyone in soccer – at all levels – has a safe and respectful place to learn, grow and compete.

The NWSL also plans to provide an update on its initiatives and what further steps it will take to address the recommendations in the Yates report. The NWFL said that update will come before the start of its 2023 season in March.