NWSL Permanently Bans Four Former Coaches, Imposes Other Sanctions

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The National Women’s Soccer League on Monday announced sanctions against multiple teams, individuals and organizations following an investigation that uncovered misconduct in the league.

NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman has imposed individual bans, suspensions and fines, as well as noted conditions by which certain individuals could be eligible for future work in the league in response to the investigation.

According to the league's statement Monday, four former coaches are being banned permanently:

  • Former Portland Thorns and North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley
  • Former Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly
  • Former Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames
  • Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke

The findings of the Joint Investigative Report — released on Dec. 14 —  found that the failures across the league and U.S. Soccer were largely systemic, and recommendations were made for structural reforms to improve the league's policies and practices. Discipline applicable to specific individuals and organizations was left to the discretion of the league. 

"The league will continue to prioritize implementing and enhancing the policies, programs and systems that put the health and safety of our players first," Berman said in the NWSL statement Monday. "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.” 

Penalties from the league were based on a three-tiered structure taking into consideration "the degree of severity of the misconduct that occurred, whether individuals in positions of power knew or should have known of the misconduct, the degree or repetition of the misconduct, evidence of retaliatory conduct, the proximate nature of the behavior or action to the present, and actions that failed to communicate the misconduct with others," according to the NWSL statement.

Eight other individuals were sanctioned. Two were given two-year suspensions from the league: Former Utah Royals FC coach Craig Harrington and former Gotham FC general manager Alyse LaHue must meet certain requirements to qualify for future employment after their suspension ends in 2025. Per the NWSL statement, that includes "acknowledging wrongdoing and accepting personal responsibility for inappropriate conduct, participating in training, and demonstrating a sincere commitment to correcting behavior," as reported by Yahoo Sports. 

The other six individuals (former OL Reign coach Farid Benstiti, former Houston Dash coaches James Clarkson and Vera Pauw and former Orlando Pride coaches Amanda Cromwell. Sam Greene and Aline Reis) must adhere to the NWSL's conditional requirements before taking another job in the league.

U.S. Soccer and the NWSL league office were each fined no less than $1 million, and they were given requirements for systemic changes.

The Red Stars received the biggest fine: $1.5 million. Owner Arnim Whisler plans to sell the team after the club's board of directors ousted him as team chairman in October, Yahoo Sports reported. The Portland Thorns were fined $1 million, something that was previously announced by owner Merritt Paulson when he said he would sell the team in the wake of the investigation.

Racing Louisville was fined $200,000 and the North Carolina Courage was fined $100,000. Both must also hire coaches and general managers "completely distinct from the men's team with which it shares ownership." OL Reign and Gothan FC were also fined $50,000 each.

Two teams mentioned in the statement but not fined were the Spirit and the Kansas City Current. The league determined that it would not impose corrective action on the Spirit since the team is under new ownership, Yahoo Sports reported. The league didn't impose sanctions on the Current because it did not find that anyone at the club retaliated against players, though the statement read that "it is concerning that several players raised concerns about being mistreated or retaliation."

In the statement, Berman said that the league and its clubs have taken steps to begin structural reform, and will work to build a safe and positive environment for players, staff, fans and partners.

"The Board of Governors hired me with the very specific mandate to effectuate this transformation," Berman said in the statement. "These changes will require leadership, accountability, funding and a willingness to embrace this new way of conducting business."

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