U.S. women’s national team defender Becky Sauerbrunn said that anyone still in the NWSL who contributed to its abusive environment needs to be removed, in the wake of the release of the Yates report detailing the abusive culture in women’s professional soccer.
“For so long, this has always fallen on the player to demand change, and that is because the people in authority and decision-making positions have repeatedly failed to protect us and they have failed to hold themselves and each other accountable,” Sauerbrunn said during media availability in London. “And what and who are you actually protecting and what values are you upholding? You have failed in your stewardship.
“And it’s my opinion that every owner and executive and U.S. Soccer official who has repeatedly failed the players and failed to protect the players, who have hidden behind legalities and have not participated fully in these investigations should be gone.”
Minutes before Sauerbrunn began addressing the media, Merritt Paulson, the owner of her club team the Portland Thorns, released a statement in which he informed the NWSL that he “will be removing [himself] effective today from all Thorns-related decision making” until a joint investigation by the NWSL and the NWSL Players Association is complete.
The statement added that the same will be true for president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson and president of business Mike Golub, all of whom featured prominently in the report as having enabled or turned a blind eye to abuse.
Asked whether her comments applied to Paulson, Sauerbrunn said: “It includes everyone that has continued to fail the players time and time again, who didn’t take concern seriously, who didn’t pass on information correctly, who have not participated in investigations. All of them.”
Later on Tuesday, Chicago Red Stars chairman Arnim Whisler announced that he was removing himself from his governance role on the NWSL board of governors and handing over operational control of the club to “our executive team in Chicago.”
Yates’ report found that Whisler dismissed concerns from players about the behavior of Red Stars coach Rory Dames before he resigned on Nov. 21, 2021, amid accusations from several players of verbal and emotional abuse.
In response to the announcements, NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman released a statement saying the league was “supportive of the important steps taken by the Portland Thorns and Chicago Red Stars today.”
“As the League continues to evaluate the Yates report, I want to assure you that we remain committed to implementing reform and disciplinary action, both as a result of the Yates Report and the NWSL/NWSLPA’s Joint Investigative Team’s findings,” the statement added.
Berman added that the NWSL’s joint investigative team was working towards concluding their report by the end of the year.
The U.S. women’s national team is currently in London as it prepares to play England at Wembley Stadium on Oct. 7 and Spain in Pamplona four days later. But the focus was on the contents of the Yates report, which was released Monday.
The Yates report, which was commissioned by U.S. Soccer, detailed allegations of emotional, verbal and sexual abuse perpetrated by managers within the NWSL. While some of the information had previously been reported, there were new revelations about how former Racing Louisville manager Christy Holly was fired for groping one of his players multiple times, as well as additional detail into the allegations against former Portland Thorns and North Carolina Courage manager Paul Riley, and former Chicago Red Stars manager Rory Dames.
“The players are not doing well,” Sauerbrunn said. “We are horrified and heartbroken and frustrated and exhausted and really, really angry. We are angry that it took a third party investigation. We are angry that it took an article in The Athletic and the Washington Post and numerous others. We’re angry that it took over 200 people sharing our trauma to get to this point right now.”
Sauerbrunn added that the players are also angry that it took the stories of numerous players, including Mana Shim, Sinead Farrelly and Erin Simon “to repeatedly ask people in authority to take their abuse and their concerns seriously.”
U.S. manager Vlatko Andonovski said he was “saddened” and in “disbelief” over the contents of the report. He added he’s tried as much as possible to give his players the space and time needed to process the report’s findings in their own way.
“It’s not easy, because it’s not easy for the players. It’s not easy for the staff because we’re all impacted in some way,” Andonovski said. “We’re all impacted in different ways, and we all deal with this in different ways as well.
“Some players, some staff members need someone that to talk to. Some people need time, some people need space, some people need to process all of it. And some need instruction and that’s why we as a staff allow the players to think and process and do basically whatever they need in order to get over this difficult time.”