Portland Thorns and US women’s national team player Lindsey Horan has gone into significantly more detail about the time she spent at Paris Saint-Germain dealing with a body-shaming, unhealthy, sexist culture, partially under the direction of then-head coach Farid Benstiti, who is now head coach of OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League.
Horan has spoken before about her treatment at PSG, where she was repeatedly told to lose weight and get thinner. These requests were not just about performance, but were about players’ physical appearances, and were sometimes completely unconnected to actual performance.
Horan went on fellow NWSL player Cari Roccaro’s podcast, Butterfly Road (also co-hosted by Ginny McGowan), to talk about the mental toll this treatment took on her and how she got out of what was, essentially, an abusive situation. “In France, that was the number one time that I felt like I wanted to quit soccer and was not enjoying myself. There was just so much wrong being done that I lost the love for the game,” she said on the podcast.
Horan spends the better part of an hour describing how the entire team culture was structured to reinforce their unhealthy and demeaning messages around weight and fat. It’s worth listening to the entire episode; here are a few of the incidents that Horan describes:
- an assistant coach literally slapping a snack out of her hand and grabbing the side of her waist
- coaching staff announcing to the team that she and several other players were on diets
- fining players for having desserts, and double fining the players on diets
- after excelling at preseason fitness testing, the coach told Horan in front of the team that she still weighed too much
- having zero energy as a result of reducing her food consumption to unhealthy levels in an effort to lose weight
- witnessing a coach tell a player who started wearing makeup that that was what got her finally called up to the France WNT
- at her lowest body fat percentage, being told by coaching staff she was beautiful now, and that they couldn’t see fat on her waist through her shirt and she could fit into certain clothes
Horan says that Benstiti also approached her during the Challenge Cup and said that he forgave her for publicly discussing his treatment of her at PSG, although she had not actually apologized for anything.
To this day, Horan says it’s a sensitive subject.
At the time that Benstiti was hired, back at the beginning of 2020, Ride of the Valkyries spoke to Reign CEO Bill Predmore about Horan’s comments. While he acknowledged Horan’s feelings, he also said that Benstiti didn’t realize or understand what the issue was, and ultimately said, “I really do believe he is somebody that shares and embodies — and will live up to — the values we have as an organization. I think fans will find he’s a much more warm and inviting person than how he’s being portrayed right now.”
Horan pointed out that she had no allies within the PSG structure; the team doctor, the assistant coaches, everyone had the same mentality towards weight. Fellow players were either inured to the culture or unable or unwilling to be vocal on her behalf. The team culture at Reign is likely to be different, if only because the publicity of Horan’s statements should have put them on notice. And there has certainly been an increasing awareness in sports as more research comes out about the ways competitive environments that require so much from the human body can lead to fixations on food, weight, and appearance.
But just as Benstiti’s initial hiring was concerning, Horan relating how even months later at the Challenge Cup he still simply didn’t seem to understand what he had done wrong remains concerning. This is a person in a position of high authority who will be dealing closely with young, impressionable athletes. The Reign locker room has its share of smart, vocal veterans, the organization has recently brought on Dr. Mariah Bullock as a sports psych and mental health counselor, and hopefully there are clear reporting mechanisms players can use through the NWSL Players Association, so we can hope that there will be no repeat of what happened to Horan.