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NWSL 'systematically failed' to protect players from 'widespread misconduct'

An investigation commissioned by the National Women's Soccer League and its players union found "widespread misconduct" directed at players dating back to nearly a decade ago in the country's top women's professional league.

A report detailing the results of the year-long investigation was published on Wednesday, a little over two months after the release in October of US Soccer's report on a separate investigation by former acting US Attorney General Sally Q Yates that found emotional abuse and sexual misconduct were systemic in the sport, impacting multiple teams, coaches and players.

The second investigation also found instances of sexual abuse and manipulation.

The NWSL-commissioned report said club staff in positions of power "made inappropriate sexual remarks to players, mocked players' bodies, pressured players to lose unhealthy amounts of weight, crossed professional boundaries with players and created manipulative working conditions".

"They used derogatory and insulting language towards players, displayed insensitivity toward players' mental health, and engaged in retaliation against players who attempted to report or did report concerns," the report said.

NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman, who took the reins in April, said the joint investigation showed the league systematically failed to protect players.

She said: "This report clearly reflects how our league systemically failed to protect our players. On behalf of the Board and the league, let me first and foremost sincerely apologise to our players for those failures and missteps.

"They deserve, at a minimum, a safe and secure environment to participate at the highest level in a sport they love, and they have my unwavering commitment that delivering that change will remain a priority each and every day."

The joint investigation was launched last year after a pair of former players came forward and accused longtime NWSL coach Paul Riley of sexual harassment and coercion.

Riley, who has denied the allegations, was fired by the North Carolina Courage in the aftermath. He was among five head coaches in the league who were either fired or resigned in 2021 amid claims of misconduct.

The fallout has continued into this year. Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson announced on December 1 he was putting the team up for sale amid calls for him to do so that began after the Yates report detailed how the Thorns mishandled complaints about Riley when he coached the team in 2014-15.

Paulson stepped down from a decision-making role with the team in October and two Thorns executives were fired.

The investigative team for the joint investigation reached out to 780 current and former players, all 12 NWSL teams and 90 current and former club staff, and those from the league office.

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