Four former NWSL coaches Paul Riley, Christy Holly, Rory Dames and Richie Burke were permanently banned from the league on Monday as discipline commissioner Jessica Berman issued a ruling based on a joint investigation report last month between the league and the players union. .
This joint NWSL/NWSLPA investigation follows a report at The Athletic in 2021 That detailed allegations of sexual harassment and coercion from 2015 made against former Portland Thorns manager Riley as well as other allegations of misconduct, including those of former Chicago Red Stars coach Dames, who was among those found to have verbally and emotionally abused players.
In 2021, five male coaches were dismissed or forced to resign for non-football reasons, including alleged sexual misconduct, verbal abuse, racist remarks and perpetuation of a toxic work culture. The team finished sixth as its general manager.
The joint investigation detailed violations that occurred with the North Carolina Courage, Houston Dash, OL Reign, Orlando Pride and NY/NJ Gotham FC. An investigation published in October 2022 led by former Deputy US Attorney General Sally Yates, on behalf of the NFL, reached similar findings.
“The league will continue to prioritize the implementation and promotion of policies, programs and systems that put the health and safety of our players first,” Berman said in a press release.
The league also issued two-year job bans to former Utah Royals FC head coach Craig Harrington and former Gotham general manager Alessi Lahue and conditions for their rehiring following the bans.
The National Football League Players Association (NWSL) called the steps taken by the league “critical” and added in a statement Monday: “Today, the NFL announced disciplinary sanctions for clubs and individuals who have committed or enabled misconduct since the league’s inception in 2013. This represents a crucial step towards holding clubs and team captains accountable for their actions, or inaction, that impeded and betrayed players’ safety.
“People in positions of authority who caused harm to players have been relieved of their duties, banned from joining the league, suspended or fined.”
Two of the trainers, James Clarkson, of the Houston Dash, and Amanda Cromwell. From the Orlando Pride, he was suspended earlier in 2022 on the recommendation of investigators and can return to the league once he participates in training and demonstrates a commitment to correcting behaviour, the league said in a press release.
The return to action in the league for former OL Reign head coach Fred Benstetti, Orlando Pride assistant coach Sam Green and goalkeeping coach Allen Reese was conditional on the same criteria as Clarkson and Cromwell. The same corrective measure was also mandated for Vera Pao, former Houston Dash coach and current manager of the Ireland women’s team.
The league also imposed severe financial penalties and requirements to make systemic changes to the Chicago Red Stars in the amount of $1.5 million and a $1 million fine to the Portland Thorns, as well as citing its league office. The league indicated in the statement that both Portland and Chicago are in the process of being sold.
It also ordered Racing Louisville, North Carolina Courage, AL Reign and Gotham FC to pay fines.
“Our league and clubs are committed to making these changes and will do so with the continued contribution of the NWSL Players Association to make the NWSL a league that sets the standard for the future of the sport,” Berman said.