An investigation into U.S. women’s professional soccer paints a picture of systemic abuse across the sport, in which reports from players about sexual, verbal and emotional misconduct by their coaches were repeatedly ignored by the league and governing federation. The report concludes that abuse was at times seen as normal behavior because of practices used throughout the sport, starting at the youth level, reports the Wall Street Journal. The United States Soccer Federation retained former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates of King & Spalding LLP to lead an inquiry after reports last year of sexual misconduct by male coaches in the National Women’s Soccer League. Yates described consistent missteps by teams, the league and the federation after they were provided evidence of abuse allegations, beginning with the earliest years of the league’s existence and continuing through 2021. “Abusive coaches moved from team to team, laundered by press releases thanking them for their service, and positive references from teams that minimized or even concealed misconduct. Those at the NWSL and USSF in a position to correct the record stayed silent," a summary of the Yates report said.
The report focuses on three high-profile cases, the most prominent involving former coach Paul Riley, who had been named in allegations of sexual misconduct every year between 2015 to 2021. No action was taken by the team, league or federation. According to the Yates report, no warnings were given to his teams. The Portland Thorns fired Riley after a player reported persistent and unwanted advances in 2015. At the time, the team publicly thanked Riley for his services and announced only that it wasn't retaining him as coach. The report summary criticized the Portland Thorns, one of the most commercially and competitively successful franchises, for trying to block Yates’s team from accessing its 2015 report, citing legal arguments that Yates called “specious.”