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Update On NWSL Abuse Investigation Hints At Lack Of Cooperation

The women’s soccer world anxiously awaits the outcome of a much-needed investigation into widespread abuse of players in the National Women’s Soccer League. After recent allegations of emotional abuse and sexual coercion were levied against former Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames this week, USWNT stars are demanding answers, wondering what’s taking so long with the investigation. On Thursday, the woman leading the inquiry suggested there might be parties who are not fully cooperating.

Four months ago, U.S. Soccer hired former acting attorney general Sally Yates to investigate the abuse NWSL players have said they have suffered at the hands of managers, administrators and other people in positions of power in the league. The investigation was a response to a laundry list of NWSL coaches and administrators who have been accused of inappropriate behavior including harassment, emotional abuse and sexual coercion. 

Yates released statement on her ongoing investigation late Thursday. 

Sally Yates NWSL Investigation Latest

In brief, Yates said she was retained to investigate sexual misconduct and other abuse in women’s professional soccer with a broad scope, including those who may have perpetuated or concealed abuse. She went on to write the investigation is ongoing and noted players have been particularly forthcoming, then providing means for anonymous reporting. She ended with a doozy of a paragraph.

“We are hopeful that all parties and organizations will quickly provide the requested relevant documents and information, consistent with their public commitments to cooperate in the investigation,” Yates wrote. “Players deserve meaningful reform.”

As women’s soccer reporter Jeff Kassouf points out above, the last paragraph is of major interest. Are there parties not fully cooperating or providing requested documents in a timely manner? The statement certainly suggests so, otherwise she would not have specifically asked for greater assistance. 

Yates’ statement came in response to nine USWNT players sending a letter to the two U.S. Soccer Federation presidential candidates on Wednesday, asking for answers after the latest report from the Washington Post on Dames’ alleged abuses. Current USSF president and one of the two candidates for the job this spring, Cindy Parlow Cone, released a statement on Thursday morning expressing empathy for the USWNT players’ concerns of player safety. She pointed to the ongoing Yates investigation to explain what the USSF is doing in response. 

Parlow Cone said the investigation was ongoing and will be made public, but her letter left many wondering where the inquiry was at in its process and when more information will be available. Carlos Cordeiro, the man who resigned in disgrace to pave the way for Parlow Cone to become the first female USSF president only to recently announce he is running for the same position this spring, has yet to issue a public response. 

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Given Yates’ accusatory tone in the final paragraph of her statement, one wonders who the parties could be that aren’t cooperating. An immediate thought is the Chicago Red Stars, who allowed Dames to resign instead of firing him. 

Following a public statement on Thursday, Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler gave a rare interview to the Chicago Tribune where he explained the decision to let Dames resign was for legal reasons, and that if Dames hadn’t stepped down before midnight, he would have been fired. 

Whisler has detailed how he plans to make the Red Stars a safer organization for all, including “more checks and balances” and increased staffing. One quote seems to show he gets it, but as Yates pointed out, some organizations have been publicly saying they are committed to aiding the investigation but not doing so in action. 

“The bottom line for us and for me as we’ve gone through this process is even if you think you have an open door, you can’t understand the power dynamics,” Whisler told the Tribune. “We must do this with independence and anonymous resources so that folks can feel comfortable fully coming forward on whatever topic.”

Another possibility is the Portland Thorns are stonewalling the investigation. The Thorns were criticized for their handling of Paul Riley’s exit from the club, after which he immediately joined another NWSL club. Portland has also faced recent criticism for its handling of Timbers midfielder Andy Polo, accused of domestic abuse in 2021 but only released from the team this week. 

This, of course, is all speculation. We don’t know who, if anyone, is refusing to cooperate with the Yates investigation. We can only hope Yates and her team are able to gain full access to every bit of information required to come to a positive conclusion. 

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