The owners of two National Women’s Soccer League clubs have stepped down from their roles amid an investigation into numerous reports of sexual misconduct and abuse around the league.
Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson and Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler announced their decisions on Tuesday.
On Monday, the US Soccer Federation released a lengthy, scathing report it commissioned from former acting Attorney General Sally Yates that revealed the National Women’s Soccer League along with the soccer federation failed to provide a safe environment for NWSL players.
“Yesterday’s Yates report unveiling was the darkest day I have experienced, and I know the same is true for everyone else who loves our team and our league,” Paulson said.
“I know it was even harder and darker for those whose stories were shared publicly. I cannot apologize enough for our role in a gross systemic failure to protect player safety and the missteps we made in 2015. I am truly sorry.”
Yates’ report found that Whisler dismissed concerns from players about the abusive behaviour of Red Stars coach Rory Dames, who resigned on Nov. 21, 2021, amid accusations of verbal and emotional abuse by several players.
Whisler, who serves on the NWSL board of governors alongside Paulson, made a similar move with the Red Stars, announcing in a statement: “Our organization is committed to rebuilding trust and respect among players and staff towards our league and club, and I recognize that my current presence is a distraction.
“I do not want to take any of the attention away from the players’ incredible and well-earned playoff run.”
“So in the interest of the club and the players, and fans we serve, effective immediately, I will remove myself from my governance role within the NWSL board of governors and will hand over operational control of the club to our executive team in Chicago.”
“The players are not doing well. We are horrified and heartbroken and frustrated and exhausted. And we are really, really angry. We are angry that it took a third-party investigation,” US National Women’s Soccer’s Becky Sauerbrunn said about the report.
“For so long this has always fallen on the players to demand change and that is because people in authority and decision-making positions have repeatedly failed to protect us,” she said.
Sauerbrunn, a 10-year NWSL veteran who is in her third season with the Portland Thorns, continued, “Every owner and executive and US Soccer official who 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.
“At the bare minimum, the recommendations that are in the Sally Yates report should be immediately implemented by US Soccer and by the league (NWSL).”
NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman issued a statement saying: “While it will take time, we are fully prepared to take the necessary steps to protect the health and safety of our players, staff and other stakeholders in order to create the League that our players, fans, partners and staff deserve and expect.”
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