NWSL Joint Investigation finds an underlying culture of misconduct

The NWSL has released its findings from the joint investigation into league misconduct, harassment and discrimination. Covington & Burling LLP and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP led the investigation.

Together they found that more than half of NWSL clubs had a history of misconduct. The report listed eight clubs from the 12-team league. This also applies to the previously reported incidents involving Paul Riley, Rory Dames and Christy Holly. Yet the findings go beyond just a handful of cases of abuse, harassment and discrimination.

The NWSL Joint Investigation stated that the underlying culture of NWSL created fertile ground for misconduct to go unreported. The league, which only started in 2012, was fragile and financially unstable. For many players, it was their best chance to play professional women’s football. That’s why executives and coaches told the players to be thankful for the chance to just play, and essentially do whatever they could to make sure the league and their careers stayed afloat. Players said this culture of the NWSL prevented them from reporting misconduct.

Also, players and coaches have never had training on what constitutes abuse or misconduct. The players also did not know where and when to report it.

In addition, the NWSL Joint Investigation listed recommendations. In summary, that includes a total overhaul and systemic reform.

NWSL Joint Investigation labels eight clubs with misconduct in the recent past

Most people knew about the problems with Paul Riley, Rory Dames and Christy Holly. The investigative team further elaborated on NWSL’s misconduct. The misconduct identified around five other teams revolves around sexual misconduct, inappropriate relationships with players, the blurring of professional boundaries, racially insensitive remarks, inappropriate statements about player weight and body type and other forms of emotional misconduct, and retaliation for report misconduct.

For example, the Washington Spirit and And Kansas City Current had sections in the report about the futility of speaking to coaches. For KC Current, head coach Huw Williams has actively rid himself of players who spoke out against him at a club meeting.

Another concern was the lack of vetting and research that NWSL had previously undertaken. Racing Louisville, for example, has not looked deeply into Christy Holly’s treatment of players during the hiring process. Subsequently, NWSL’s 2015 Paul Riley investigation revealed only “poor judgment,” but no explanation for this characterization.


As a result, the NWSL Joint Investigation has issued a number of recommendations for the league to address these issues in the future. The NWSL is working on a few of them. For example, the report seeks to strengthen anti-harassment policies, something the league claimed to have done for the past 14 months.

The report also wants the league to make guidelines and definitions of harassment clearer and available. The league has plans to do so for the 2023 season, which starts in a few months.


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Harassment,Joint research,National Women’s Soccer League,NWSL,World football news

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