Opinion: The disgusting abuse within the NWSL needs to end now


Credit: Alyssa Ao

WSPN’s Tess Alongi discusses the abuse that has recently been uncovered in the National Women’s Soccer Association

Tess Alongi

Established in 2012, The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) has been in the spotlight for the systemic abuse of its players. The abuse that these players are enduring isn’t a new thing, but this is the first time players have spoken up and the NWSL needs to do something about it.

The 12 team league was formed after the end of the Women’s Professional Soccer League, which existed from 2007 to 2012. The struggle to maintain a professional women’s soccer league has been difficult, but with help from the United States Soccer Federation, the Canadian Soccer Association and the Mexican Football Federation, the NWSL has been up and running for a decade now.

After allegations of abuse in the NWSL were made public in the Washington Post one year ago, former acting attorney general Sally Yates has been investigating coaches in the NWSL.  Through her findings, many allegations of sexual misconduct as well as verbal abuse have been brought to light. Former Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly, former Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames and former Portland Thorns coach Paul Riley have been at the forefront of these allegations.

Holly was fired by Louisville on Aug. 31, 2021. Although there were rumors of sexual misconduct, no specific reasons were released as to why he was fired, which left many questioning. Why would this coach with many accolades be fired out of nowhere? Over a year later, reports of his sexual abuse have been shared publicly. After inviting player Erin Simon over to his house for a private film session, Holly proceeded to touch her inappropriately. Although he has denied these allegations, Holly has admitted to sending and soliciting sexual photos. He is best known for his marriage to long-time USWNT player Christie Pearce who he met when he was her coach on NWSL’s former Sky Blue FC. The relationship between a coach and player is a common occurrence in the NWSL, which helps to fuel the circle of misconduct within the league.

Dames first faced reports of misconduct when he was a youth coach in the 1990s, but due to lack of background checks, he was still hired as a coach in the NWSL. Dames resigned from Chicago in November just two days after his team lost in the NWSL Championship game. He first faced allegations in 2014 and 2015 after players completed surveys where they reported his abusive behavior. Former USWNT Forward Christen Press was brought into the spotlight when she publicly complained about Dames in 2014 and asked to be traded after claiming that he emotionally abused his players. Allegations of emotional and verbal abuse as well as sexual misconduct continue to surface.

Riley’s contract was terminated on Sept. 30, 2021, following many allegations. According to reports, Riley tried to initiate a sexual relationship with his player Meleana Shim and in turn, benched her when she declined. In addition, Riley also had a sexual relationship with player Sinead Farrelly. She later filed a complaint against him. In anonymous surveys filled out by players in 2014, Riley was reported to be verbally abusive and sexist towards his players. In 2019 Riley was a candidate for the USWNT coaching job after former Coach Jill Ellis retired. However, USWNT player Alex Morgan made U.S. Soccer aware of his actions and urged them not to hire him.

Growing up, I have always watched women’s professional soccer. I watched teams like the Boston Breakers fold and teams like the San Diego Wave emerge. I have watched as teams struggled to sell a thousand tickets, and teams break attendance records of 32,000 person sellout crowds. I have longed for a time when women’s soccer was constantly in the media, but I never expected anything to be like this.

These women have made it to the top of the top. They are the best of the best, and with that should come reward, but instead they have been faced with disgusting abuse. Coaches are supposed to be people who care for you, a figure who can guide a team to success, not only on the field but in all aspects of your life. Coaches should never be the people that make you feel uncomfortable and scared to come to work.

I have always been a NWSL fan, but how they have handled this abuse is horrific. For years, the NWSL has covered up the systemic abuse that has run throughout the league and while the front office has turned a blind eye, players have faced the repercussions.

This has to end. The NWSL has to take accountability so that change can be made. For far too long, the NWSL has allowed a toxic culture to poison their league. They have knowingly let coaches abuse their own players and tried to silence the victims. All the players who spoke up when nobody listened deserve praise and all of the players who were too scared to speak up deserve a safe place to voice their experiences. In order for responsibility to be taken, voices need to be heard and apologies needed to be made.

The answer isn’t to fold the league and allow the wrongs of higher officials to rob the players of their opportunities. I am not completely sure what the answer should be, but I do know that these women are an inspiration to young females around the world. They have shown young girls the power of their voices as they continue to break female sports records and gain recognition for female athletes. These women deserve a league where they are in the spotlight for their playing. Change needs to happen, and it needs to start now.