US players ‘horrified’ by report of abuse in women’s soccer

Oct 4, 2022, 4:18 AM | Updated: 4:53 pm
FILE - In this Aug. 29, 2019, file photo, United States' Becky Sauerbrunn is shown during an intern...

FILE - In this Aug. 29, 2019, file photo, United States' Becky Sauerbrunn is shown during an international friendly soccer match against Portugal in Philadelphia. Players on the U.S. women's national soccer team are trying to process an investigation that found emotional abuse and sexual misconduct are systemic in women’s soccer. U.S. defender Becky Sauerbrunn says she is horrified by the report. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

As the United States was preparing for its game Friday against England at Wembley Stadium, players were trying to process an investigation that found emotional abuse and sexual misconduct are systemic in women’s soccer.

“We are horrified and heartbroken and frustrated and exhausted and really, really angry,” said defender Becky Sauerbrunn.

Former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Q. Yates and the law firm of King & Spaulding released a report Monday after being retained by U.S. Soccer to investigate allegations of abuse in the National Women’s Soccer League following a series of scandals last year.

The NWSL and its players association are conducting another investigation.

Five of 10 NWSL coaches either were fired or stepped down last season amid allegations of misconduct. Among them was North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley, who was dismissed after two former players, Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly, accused him of sexual coercion and harassment dating back a decade. Riley denied the allegations.

Yates’ report focused on three former coaches, including Riley. Not only did the investigation find misconduct by all three, it also said their teams did not fully cooperate.

“I think for so long this has fallen on the players to demand change. That is because the people in authority and decision-making positions have repeatedly failed to protect us and they have failed to hold themselves and each other accountable. Who are you actually protecting and what values are you upholding? You have failed in your stewardship,” Sauerbrunn said. “And it’s my opinion that every owner and executive and U.S. Soccer official who has repeatedly failed the players and failed to protect the players, who have hidden behind legalities and have not participated fully in these investigations, should be gone.”

As Sauerbrunn was speaking in London, her NWSL team, the Portland Thorns, announced owner Merritt Paulson, general manager Gavin Wilkinson and executive Mike Golub would immediately withdraw from any Thorns-related decision-making until the league investigation is complete.

Farrelly and Shim played for the Thorns when Riley was coach from 2014-15. At the time, the Thorns conducted an internal investigation of the allegations and decided not to renew Riley’s contract. But no reason for the decision was made public and Riley went on to coach elsewhere in the league.

Sauerbrunn was asked about increasing pressure on Paulson to sell the team. She said it was her belief the NWSL’s joint investigation would make its own recommendation as far as discipline.

“I don’t know if anything is going to come out in this other report that’s going to make any sort of difference. And so at the end of the day, if people continue to fail the players and they don’t comply to anything that gets asked of them or gets implemented because of these reports, then they need to be gone,” Sauerbrunn said.

Some of the details in Yates’ report were disturbing.

“I think we’re all reckoning with the things that were said in the report. Still kind of working through that, in all the ways that we individually do,” said defender Alana Cook, who plays for OL Reign. “I think we have such a momentous occasion on Friday playing at a sold out Wembley Stadium, and it’s marred by this report, and it’s marred by the atrocities that have been condoned and tolerated and allowed to go on.”

The report made numerous recommendations to prioritize player health and safety. Among them is the requirement that teams accurately disclose coach misconduct to the league and the soccer federation to ensure coaches aren’t allowed to move between teams. It also calls for meaningful vetting of coaches and timely investigations into allegations of abuse.

U.S. Soccer also said it would immediately implement programs to protect players.

“It was a difficult day, yesterday, lots of emotions, different emotions. Personally, I’m saddened by the report in everything that we saw in it,” U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “At the same time, I feel a lot of empathy for the players, and I have tremendous respect for the bravery of the players who spoke out and the players who participated in this report. Soccer is is a game we all love and it should be a safe space.”

___

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

South Korea's Son Heung-min applauds the fans after losing 4-1 during the World Cup round of 16 soc...
Associated Press

South Korea looks to youth after World Cup loss to Brazil

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — South Korea lost in the round of 16 of the World Cup and then lost its coach. The team was beaten by five-time champion Brazil 4-1 on Monday. After the match, South Korea coach Paulo Bento announced that he was stepping down to end his four-year stint. The Portuguese coach said […]
1 day ago
Brazil's Neymar, from right, celebrates with team mates Lucas Paqueta, Raphinha and Vinicius Junior...
Associated Press

Brazil dancing again after big win at World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The joy — and the dancing — are back for five-time champion Brazil at the World Cup. The big win over South Korea on Monday secured Brazil a berth in the quarterfinals in Qatar. It also restored the team’s confidence after a tumultuous start to the tournament in which the Seleçao […]
1 day ago
Paulo Dybala runs during a training session of Argentina's national soccer team in Doha, Saturday, ...
Associated Press

Paulo Dybala, the Serie A standout not needed by Argentina

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Paulo Dybala posted a photo of himself on Instagram laughing along with his Argentina teammate Lionel Messi, with the accompanying words: “We carry on with a smile! Let’s go.” Argentina might be getting ever closer to a place in the World Cup final but, on a purely personal level, the tournament […]
1 day ago
Maryland head coach Kevin Willard signals a play in to his team during the second half of an NCAA c...
Associated Press

No. 13 Maryland off to fast start with marquee games ahead

Kevin Willard believed his new Maryland team would get off to a good start. But this has been a bit more than even Willard expected early in his tenure after a successful run at Seton Hall. “I didn’t envision this,” Willard said. “I’m not going to lie.” The Terrapins (8-0, 1-0 Big Ten) made the […]
1 day ago
FILE - Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors holds a sign in the dressing room in Hershey, ...
Associated Press

Analysis: In the NBA, 100 points no longer assures anything

If the NBA has a magic number, it’s 100. Wilt Chamberlain’s single-game scoring record. A perfect shooting percentage. And the rule pretty much seemed to be that if a team scored 100 points in a game, it probably was going to walk off the floor as a winner. Not anymore. Put simply, 100 doesn’t guarantee […]
1 day ago
Deion Sanders speaks after being introduced as the new head football coach at the University of Col...
Associated Press

Deion Sanders’ arrival swipes buzz from bungling Broncos

DENVER (AP) — Deion Sanders sauntered into the Arrow Touchdown Club for what felt more like an old-fashioned tent revival than a news conference to introduce the University of Colorado’s splashy new hire of “Coach Prime” as its new head football coach. At that very moment Sunday afternoon, the Denver Broncos were predictably blowing another […]
1 day ago
US players ‘horrified’ by report of abuse in women’s soccer