The fallout from investigations of allegations of misconduct with the Portland Thorns and the Washington Spirit organisations received another update today.
The National Women’s Soccer League sent out a press release, detailing what the incidents of misconduct were and what the fallout of the investigations were, for both the teams and the staff involved in the investigations.
Please note, there are sensitive matters discussed below and so, read further on with caution.
For the Portland Thorns, the following was reported by the Thorns leadership to the NWSL player concerns:
- Assistant coach Sophie Clough made a player feel uncomfortable by kissing her neck at the team’s championship celebration in Washington D.C.
- During the investigation of this, led by a third-arty attorney engaged by the NWSL, claims of bullying behaviour by Clough were raised.
- In late November 2022, Dr. Breanne Brown, the Thorns’ team physician, reported concerns to the team’s GM about player safety following events that took place during the 2022 NWSL playoffs. Those concerns were then reported by the Thorns leadership to the league. Those concerns raised by Dr. Brown were that Portland’s athletic trainer, Pierre Soubrier, had told her he had given two players a medication that contained codeine at the Thorns semi-final in October.
- Dr. Brown also self-reported concerns about her own conduct related to the administration of controlled substances.
As a result of these allegations of misconduct, the league thoroughly investigated all of the above and found that the claims of unwanted contact by Clough were substantiated in violation of league policy. The claims of bullying behaviour were found to be unsubstantiated by the third-party investigator.
With regards to Dr. Brown’s concerns, the league once again engaged a third-party attorney to investigate the issue. Due to the imminent risk to player health and safety, the NWSL placed Soubrier on administrative leave, effective December 7, 2022, pending the outcome of the investigation. The third-party attorney found that the concerns about Soubrier were substantiated as he had been found to have administered the controlled substance (stated above) on multiple occasions without a prescription and physician supervision, which is a violation of federal and state laws and league policy. Furthermore, Soubrier administered the medication to one of the players without her informed consent.
Dr. Brown, as per the investigator, was confirmed to have provided Soubrier on one occasion access to a controlled substance to administer to a player if needed. Dr. Brown noted that she became uncomfortable with this decision and promptly communicated to Soubrier that it should not be administered. As the medication was not administered and was retrieved by Dr. Brown, Dr. Brown did not violate any federal or state law or league policy.
As self-reported by Dr. Brown, the investigator confirmed that on one occasion Dr. Brown provided Soubrier, upon his request, with access to a controlled substance to give to a Thorns’ player if needed. However, Dr. Brown became uncomfortable with this decision and promptly communicated to Soubrier that it should not be administered. The medication was not administered and was retrieved by Dr. Brown. Dr. Brown did not violate any federal or state law or league policy.
As noted by Black and Red United in August, 2022, Kris Ward was relieved of his duties as the head coach of the Washington Spirit.
- According to the report by the Spirit leadership to the NWSL, Kris Ward was reported as verbally abusive and emotional misconduct towards a player within the team during a training sessions. This issue was brought forward to the NWSL in August 2022 and the league engaged a third-party attorney to investigate.
The investigator found that these allegations were substantiated as Ward was found to have engaged in overly aggressive behaviour and harassment through negative racial stereotyping towards a player in violation of league policy.
Corrective action taken by the league
Based on all of the above, the NWSL decided to take following steps:
- Sophie Clough has been suspended from the league without pay immediately through the conclusion of the 2023 season. The Portland Thorns have terminated her employment as well. Clough will be eligible for future employment in the league at the Commissioner’s discretion provided that Clough participates in training related to discrimination, harassment and bullying, demonstrates a clear commitment to correcting behavior and acknowledges wrongdoing and accepts personal responsibility for inappropriate conduct.
- Pierre Soubrier has been suspended from the league without pay immediately through the conclusion of the 2023 season. The league will also report Soubrier to the Oregon Board of Athletic Trainers (Oregon Board) and the Board of Certification (BOC). The Thorns have also terminated Soubrier’s employment. Subject to the ruling and requirements of the Oregon Board and BOC, Soubrier will be eligible for future employment in the league at the Commissioner’s discretion provided that he acknowledges wrongdoing and accepts personal responsibility for his conduct and demonstrates a sincere commitment to correcting his behavior.
- Dr. Breanne Brown will be subject to increased oversight by and regular reporting to the NWSL Chief Medical Officer for three (3) months. At the conclusion of that 3-month period, NWSL Chief Medical Officer will provide an assessment to the Commissioner. Dr. Brown will also be required to review the American Medical Association Code of Ethics.
Kris Ward’s employment was previously terminated by the Washington Spirit. Ward is ineligible to work in the league in any capacity unless or until approved by the Commissioner. In order to be eligible for future employment in the NWSL, Ward must participate in mandatory training related to discrimination, harassment, bullying and racial bias, demonstrate a sincere commitment to correcting his behavior and acknowledge wrongdoing and accept personal responsibility for inappropriate conduct.