More than 40 lawmakers urge U.S. Soccer to comply with probe into culture of abuse

Washington Spirit's Andi Sullivan, center, lifts the trophy
AP Photo/Jeff Dean
Washington Spirit’s Andi Sullivan, center, lifts the trophy as they celebrate after defeating the Chicago Red Stars in the 2021 NWSL Championship soccer match.

A bipartisan group of 43 House lawmakers sent a letter to the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) on Tuesday urging the sporting body to comply with an ongoing investigation into a culture of abuse in the women’s soccer league and reform its practices and rules to create a safer environment.

The congressional group, led by Rep. Deborah Ross (D-N.C.), said that some witnesses declined to participate in a previous probe commissioned by the USSF.

That investigation was led by King & Spalding’s Sally Yates, a former deputy attorney general who released a bombshell report last month highlighting rampant abuse in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Yates said the report was somewhat limited by noncomplying witnesses.

In Tuesday’s letter to USSF President Cindy Cone, lawmakers pushed the group to comply with a separate probe from the NWSL and the league’s player’s association.

“Until individuals experiencing abuse feel comfortable coming forward with complaints or concerns to those in positions of authority, the systemic misconduct described in the report will continue,” the report reads. “Only receptiveness to institutional flaws will lead to institutional improvement.”

King & Spalding’s 319-page report revealed emotional abuse and sexual misconduct was “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.”

Yates recommended several options to reform the league, including designating an individual in each organization responsible for player safety and requiring teams to disclose misconduct to the USSF and NWSL.

Immediately after the report was made public, Cone called the news “heartbreaking and deeply troubling” and promised changes would be coming to the organization.

“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,” she said in a statement last month.

Questions about the culture in women’s soccer arose last fall, when North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley was accused of sexually coercing players since 2010 and Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke was accused of verbally and emotionally abusing players.

Both coaches were fired, and the USSF commissioned King & Spalding to conduct an independent investigation. The Yates report shone a spotlight on abusive practices from two additional coaches.

The letter Tuesday from House lawmakers argued that the “sport and the league are clearly in need of systemic reform.”

The congressional group requested that the USSF lay out a timeline for when the recommendations outlined in the Yates report would be implemented.

“It is obviously unacceptable that players have been subjected to this level of systemic abuse in
professional women’s soccer. These exceptional athletes have the right to practice and play the sport they love without threats, coercion, or abuse,” the letter reads. “The investigation is an important step forward in ensuring women athletes have the protections they deserve, but the work does not stop here.”

Tags Cindy Cone Deborah Ross National Women’s Soccer League Sally Yates Sally Yates u.s. soccer federation
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