Women Pro Soccer Players Told They'd Never Be Better Than '16-Year-Old Boy'

An independent report released on Monday detailed extensive evidence of mistreatment in U.S. women's soccer, including numerous instances of verbal and sexual abuse.

The investigation behind the report was commissioned by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) and was carried out under the leadership of former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. As the report notes in its introduction, the investigation revealed widespread abuses in both the USSF and the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL).

"Our investigation has revealed a league in which abuse and misconduct—verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct—had become systemic, spanning multiple teams, coaches, and victims," the introduction said. "Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture in women's soccer, beginning in youth leagues, that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players. The verbal and emotional abuse players describe in the NWSL is not merely 'tough' coaching. And the players affected are not shrinking violets. They are among the best athletes in the world."

A significant chunk includes details about Paul Riley, who, in an Atlantic report from last year, was accused of longstanding verbal abuse and sexual coercion during his years coaching professional women's soccer. The report found that Riley's sexual misconduct against players was considered an "open secret" in the NWSL, with "players, a coach, an owner, [and] an assistant general manager" recalling stories about his relationships to investigators.

Riley was also accused of severe and demoralizing verbal abuse as a coach. Some detailed instances where he seemed to use personal details "he knew were important to them" against players, blaming a 2015 scrimmage loss on one player's request to bring their infant son on the trip. Another unnamed player told investigators that Riley at one point compared their abilities derisively to teenage boys.

"We got used to being called dumb, stupid, slow, idiotic, retarded, we have no balls, we will never be better than the average 16-year-old boy, worthless, and the list goes on," the player is quoted as saying.

women's soccer abuse report
Above, a shot of former Racing Louisville player Erin Simon in August 2021. Simon is among the women's soccer players referenced in a report released on Monday about systemic abuses in the sport. Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

"The NWSL is going to immediately review the Yates Report commissioned by U.S. Soccer," the league said in a statement sent to Newsweek. "We greatly appreciate our players, staff and stakeholders' cooperation with both investigations, especially during the ongoing season. We recognize the anxiety and mental strain that these pending investigations have caused and the trauma that many—including players and staff—are having to relive.

"We continue to admire their courage in coming forward to share their stories and influence all the changes necessary to keep moving our league forward. Establishing trust and confidence between the League, its players, and other key stakeholders remains a central focus for the NWSL, and we know that we must learn from and take responsibility for the painful lessons of the past in order to move the League into a better future."

The report also touched on new details surrounding the firing of manager Christy Holly from Racing Louisville in August 2021. A player, identified as Erin Simon, told investigators about a film review session she was called into at one point. During the review, Holly told her that he would touch her "for every pass" missed on the tape. The situation escalated, with Holly putting his hands "down her pants and up her shirt."

"There are too many athletes who still suffer in silence because they are scared that no one will help them or hear them," Simon said in a statement sent to ESPN. "I know because that is how I felt. Through many difficult days, my faith alone sustained me and kept me going. I want to do everything in my power to ensure that no other player must experience what I did."

Newsweek reached out to the NWSL and USSF for comment.

"This investigation's findings are heartbreaking and deeply troubling," USSF President Cindy Parlow Cone said in a statement. "The abuse described is inexcusable and has no place on any playing field, in any training facility or workplace. As the national governing body for our sport, U.S. Soccer is fully committed to doing everything in its power to ensure that all players—at all levels—have a safe and respectful place to learn, grow and compete. We are taking the immediate action that we can today, and will convene leaders in soccer at all levels across the country to collaborate on the recommendations so we can create meaningful, long-lasting change throughout the soccer ecosystem."

Updated 10/03/2022, 5:35 p.m. ET: This story was updated to include a statement sent by NWSL.