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The NWSL and NWSLPA release their team investigative report

A 14-month long investigation has now found a conclusion, with notable issues that have been previously announced given finer detail in the report

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After 14 months since the independent investigation was first announced, the Joint Investigative Team released their investigative report, which delved into historical and ongoing complaints of discrimination, harassment, abuse (physical, emotional or sexual) and retaliation in the National Women’s Soccer League.

As per the report itself, it details transgressions that took place with the Houston Dash, the NC Courage, OL Reign, the Orlando Pride and NJ/NY Gotham FC, as well as dealing with the transgressions that were previously announced at the Portland Thorns, Racing Louisville and Chicago Red Stars.

The report also looked at how the teams, the NWSL and U.S. Soccer failed to take responsibility in the transgressions that had occurred and how they also contributed to enabling an environment that allowed the abuse to not only take place, but to continue on.

As per the report, “The Joint Investigative Team found, for example, that club staff in positions of power made inappropriate sexual remarks to players, mocked players’ bodies, pressured players to lose unhealthy amounts of weight, crossed professional boundaries with players, and created volatile and manipulative working conditions.”

“They used derogatory and insulting language towards players, displayed insensitivity towards players’ mental health, and engaged in retaliation against players who attempted to report or did report concerns. Misconduct against players has occurred at the vast majority of NWSL clubs at various times from the earliest years of the League to the present.”

The report, which is also noted on the league’s official press release, details the observations and findings, as well as recommendations for the NWSL to “consider as it address the systemic failures that allowed misconduct to occur.”

Some of those recommendations include:

  • Increasing communication and collaboration with the NWSLPA and the players on key aspects of the league.
  • Strengthening the league-wide Anti-Harassment policy, that was put in place in 2021, to prevent and eliminate discrimination, harassment, abuse, and retaliation.
  • Establishing an anonymous league-wide hotline (RealResponse) where players can report misconduct.
  • Enhancing vetting procedures for new hires.
  • Signing the first CBA with the players, which introduced several advancements for players including improved compensation packages and benefits, enhanced training and playing environments, mental health benefits, and a long-term commitment to continually improve the standards of the league that would protect the health and safety of our players, staff and other stakeholders.
  • Revising and re-implementing the Player Survey to improve the information collected and analysis of survey results.
  • Enhancing the NWSL leadership team to add experience, diversify thought leadership and create new opportunities to rebuild trust.
  • Welcoming new investors and brands with aligned values to support our players’ and the league’s growth.

The following steps have been initiated in the league as the findings in the report are dealt with by the NWSLPA, the NWSL itself and any related parties:

  • Hiring a Chief People & Culture Officer, as well as a Player Safety Officer at the league.
  • Revising league and club minimum standards and staffing / reporting requirements with an emphasis on having clubs dedicate full-time employees to the Human Resources and General Manager positions, ensuring autonomy of the medical staff, and requiring clubs to designate their own Player Safety Officers to provide in-market support to the NWSL Player Safety Officer.
  • Creating and executing trainings for players, coaches, and club and league staff.
  • Engaging NWSL, WPS and WUSA alumni, which will be focused on improving former players’ connectivity to the league, seeking their perspective and providing them with professional resources.
  • Establishing new (or revising current) policies:
  • A Non-Fraternization Policy that will create clear rules regarding romantic and/or sexual relationships and/or encounters between players and staff.
  • An Employment Approval Policy to increase vetting requirements and expand its applicability to additional new hires.
  • An Alcohol Policy to establish standards around alcohol-use in social settings where players and club staff are present.
  • Revising the Player Handbook with additional informational resources and updated policies.
  • Prohibiting clubs from providing housing to club staff at the same location as players.
  • Setting expectations through the implementation of Codes of Conduct for players, coaches and fans across the league.
  • Establishing an NWSL Advisory Council of subject matter experts to provide diverse perspectives on the future of the league, particularly as it relates to culture and systemic reform.
  • Launching a Diversity Equity & Inclusion Taskforce focused on all “isms” and proactive measures to confront and address biases.
  • Building a proactive program to attract and recruit highly qualified coaches to the NWSL.
  • Initiative will be launched at the 2023 United Soccer Coaches Convention.
  • Implementing a new investigation protocol that will continue consultation with the NWSLPA.
  • Expanding reach of RealResponse to all clubs in order to ensure players are aware of the reporting lines available to them and to improve management of the reporting system.
  • Establishing and communicating role clarity between clubs, the NWSL, U.S. Soccer and SafeSport to eliminate confusion surrounding investigation responsibility and ownership.

The NWSL will also provide an update ahead of the 2023 season on its progress on all its initiatives noted above, and a detailed plan on further steps that will be taken as a result of the Joint Investigation Report and its recommendations.

The full report and accompanying recommendations can be viewed here.

As the fallout of this report continues, we will aim to update everyone here at AllForXI with any pertinent details.