Hope for ‘new’ NWSL after former coaches banned after misconduct investigation

“A new NWSL begins today.”

That’s how the president of the union representing soccer players expressed optimism about the future of the sport after the National Women’s Soccer League banned a number of former coaches following years of alleged systemic abuse.

On Monday, NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman announced the league had permanently banned four former head coaches in the wake of a 14-month independent investigation that found “widespread misconduct directed at NWSL players” by people in positions of power within the league.

Paul Riley, who was fired by the North Carolina Courage in October 2021 over accusations of sexual coercion and misconduct by former players he had coached, is one of the three coaches banned by the league.

CNN reached out to Riley for comment but has not received a response. When The Athletic first broke the story in 2021, Riley said claims made by former players were “completely untrue.”

The league also banned Christy Holly, Rory Dames, and Richie Burke.

Holly was fired from Racing Louisville in August 2021 after the team determined that he had engaged in long-term and egregious sexual misconduct against a player.

According to an independent investigation report published in October 2022, Holly admitted that he lost his job at Louisville due to his “unique” relationship with a player but denied that any sexual conduct continued at Racing Louisville.

CNN has been unable to reach Holly for comment.

Meanwhile, the investigation found that former Chicago Red Stars coach Dames “created a sexualized team environment and verbally and emotionally abused players and staff,” and allegedly “made inappropriate sexual and suggestive remarks to youth female players, asked about their boyfriends and sex lives, and sought information about their personal lives.”

Dames has denied engaging in any misconduct as a coach, sexual or otherwise, according to his lawyer.

Washington Spirit coach Burke was also fired by the National Women’s Soccer League in September 2021 following allegations of harassment and abuse. He has denied all allegations against him.

The League also suspended former Utah Royals coach Craig Harrington and former Gotham FC general manager Alyse LaHue for at least two years on Monday in connection with allegations detailed in the October report.

In a statement to CNN, LaHue’s attorney, Kelly M. Hoffman, said: “Neither she nor I were contacted directly by the NWSL prior to being alerted to the online statement. Ms. LaHue continues to deny the allegations made against her. Notwithstanding the issues presented in her case, she supports the NWSL in its efforts towards corrective action.”

Harrington did not immediately reply to CNN’s request for comment.

NWSL commissioner Berman also set certain conditions for future employment for some former NWSL personnel and issued fines to certain clubs within the league, most notably the Chicago Red Stars ($1.5M) and Portland Thorns ($1M).

“This marks a critical step towards holding clubs and team leaders accountable for their actions, or inactions, that compromised and betrayed player safety,” the NWSL’s Players Association said in a statement released on Monday.

“No sanction will ever be enough to undo the harm that too many Players endured. By taking our power back, Players have achieved a complete and total overhaul of the NWSL ecosystem, from the League office to club ownership and staff, with new policies and systems in place to protect player safety,” union president Tori Huster said.

Along with the disciplinary measures, Berman stated that the “league will continue to prioritize implementing and enhancing the policies, programs and systems that put the health and safety of our players first.”

She added: “Those actions are fundamental to the future of our league, especially as we build a league that strengthens our players’ ability to succeed and prosper on and off the pitch.”

As part of our commitment to accountability and deterrence, the league has determined that further corrective action with respect to certain organizations and individuals identified in the Joint Investigative Report is appropriate and necessary.”

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