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The Yates Report: Where does the NWSL go from here?

Updated: Oct 22, 2022

October 3rd 2022 - U.S. Soccer release the Sally Q. Yates report. The investigation revealed a timeline of systemic abuse, spanning the entirety of the women’s football pyramid in the USA.

Paul Riley

It was The Athletic, in September 2021, who first broke the news of Paul Riley's abuse. In that article, Sinead Farrelly spoke of her experiences of RIley’s abuse, including when he said they would take “this to their graves” after the first time the two had sex. The article also went into historical allegations of abuse against Riley, who denied ever having sex or making sexual advances towards any of his players.

Player A and B, of the Yates report, backed up Farrelly’s claims. They noted how the abuse would start verbally, in training, progressing to emotional manipulation (in the form of suggesting players would not make it professionally without his expertise and coaching, as well as buying players drinks on a night out) and eventually, sexual abuse.

Riley manipulated his players into believing he was the only way they would succeed. Parents put their trust, and athletes their career, in the hands of a man who used and abused not only his position, but his players too.

Rory Dames

Similarly to Riley, Rory Dames was one of the best coaches the NWSL had ever seen, reaching the NWSL playoffs, with Chicago Red Stars (CRS), from 2015-2021 - the longest streak in NWSL history.

Two months after the story of Riley’s abuse broke on The Athletic, with a club psychologist concluding that Dames “created a culture of fear and engaged in emotional and verbal abuse which is psychologically and emotionally harmful to players and staff.” Dames resigned that very day, but the scale of the abuse was only starting to come to light.

The Washington Post subsequently published an article, revealing how Dames’ abuse was treaten so trivially by U.S. Soccer. The organisation had never taken any action against Dames, despite numerous reports of Dames’ toxic, sexualised, training environment.

Christy Holly

A month before The Athletic report on Riley, Racing Louisville announced they had fired inaugural Head Coach, Christy Holly, “for cause.”

Holly got to “walk away” from Racing Louisville, as well as former club Sky Blue, and long went under the radar as one of the NWSL coaches that were adding to U.S. Soccer’s culture of abuse.

Holly went from “a part-time volunteer reserve team coach in 2013”, to Head Coach in just three years. He also “never held the requisite license to be a Head Coach in the NWSL”, and when Holly arrived at Sky Blue “there were no written anti-harassment or anti-fraternization policies governing the League.” This meant that any concerns around his departure from Sky Blue were put down to “chemistry”, or a “human resource” issue.

No longer under the radar, Holly will be remembered for his manipulative behaviour and horrid verbal abuse.

All three coaches abused their position of power, leaving a wave of destruction, and mentally scarred players, behind them.

What Steps U.S. Soccer Have Taken Thus Far

Since 2020, U.S. Soccer has had a complete change of their senior leadership team, with roles including the President, CEO, and Chief People & Diversity Officer being changed. Before the start of Yates’ investigation they also took a number of other steps to “strengthen protection for players”. These include:

  • “Hiring a SafeSport Coordinator to oversee athlete safety and SafeSport compliance (2020) and hiring an additional full-time SafeSport Coordinator (2022);

  • Implementing a new online incident reporting and case management system (2020);

  • Offering anonymous text message reporting to all U.S. Soccer employees and national team program participants (2022);

  • Launching a publicly available tool to verify coaching and referee licenses (2022);

  • Creating a taskforce to explore a recommended universal standard for background screening in U.S. Soccer’s membership (2021);

  • Using the U.S. Soccer Learning Center to automate tracking of SafeSport training and background screening compliance for full-time employees (2022);

  • Adding additional background check requirements for members of the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors and U.S. Soccer employees to comply with the USOPC background screening standard (2020); and

  • Strengthening membership education on abuse prevention and reporting (2017-22).”

Next Steps for U.S. Soccer

In the wake of the damning report, U.S. Soccer has announced three steps it will take in the immediate term to address the report’s recommendations. These include:

  • “Establish a new Office of Participant Safety to oversee U.S. Soccer’s conduct policies and reporting mechanisms;

  • Publish soccer records from SafeSport’s Centralized Disciplinary Database to publicly identify individuals in our sport who have been disciplined, suspended or banned; and

  • Mandate a uniform minimum standard for background checks for all U.S. Soccer members at every level of the game, including youth soccer, to comport with the USOPC standards.”

Already, “U.S. Soccer has created a new committee of the Board of Directors”, which will be chaired by former national team member Danielle Slaton. This committee will create an action plan, published on or before January 31st 2023 to keep members, and the public, informed of the implementation of the report’s recommendations.

U.S. Soccer have also “announced the creation of a new player-driven Participant Safety Taskforce to convene leaders in soccer at all levels across the country - from professional leagues to youth and grassroots clubs - to coordinate efforts to implement the report’s recommendations and to ensure increased clarity on conduct-related policies and procedures.”

As many in women’s football will know, this report could likely be written about women’s football leagues right across the world. The hope now is that the changes that come as a result of this report can be an example to those around the world, especially coming from the country that hosts the sport’s reigning World Champions.

Read the full Yates Report here:

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