Megan Rapinoe has taken aim at multiple coaches embroiled in the abuse scandal surrounding the National Women’s Soccer League in America, and admitted she and her United States team-mates are ’emotionally exhausted’ and angry by the situation.
The inquiry, carried out by former US deputy attorney general Sally Yates and published on Monday, was launched after allegations were made against former North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley.
Yates and her team spoke to over 200 players in the top flight of US soccer and their findings revealed ‘a league in which abuse and misconduct – verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct – had become systemic, spanning multiple teams, coaches, and victims.’
The report also looks into allegations against two other coaches, Rory Dames and Christy Holly, as well as investigating the claims made against Riley. All three deny the accusations.
Opening up on the abuse, USA legend Rapinoe didn’t hold back in her views about Dames and others. ‘Unfortunately we have a lot of practice,’ she said. ‘Rory’s been an a**hole for the entire time I’ve known him, from the first second I heard him on the sideline the first season I ever played.
‘Paul’s the same. I didn’t know Christy Holly personally but everything I heard about him was horrible.’
Megan Rapinoe has spoken about United States Women’s team being ’emotionally exhausted’
Rapinoe has opened up about the NWSL abuse scandal ahead of the US’ game against England
The USA legend says that Rory Dames (pictured) has ‘been an a**hole’ since she first met him
‘I mean, it’s horrifying,’ Rapinoe said of the report in general. ‘I’m sure everybody read the report and have read all the reporting that’s been going on the last year. Even when you know it, it’s just horrifying over and over to read. It’s been difficult for the players. Some of those players play in those clubs, have been coached by those coaches, likely have been abused in one form or another by some of the coaches or in some of those environments or different environments, youth environments, whatever it may be.’
Asked how the team is not emotionally exhausted, Rapinoe said: ‘We are! As sick as this sounds, I feel like we’re used to having to take on so much more than game-plan and tactics. I feel like we have an incredible ability to shoulder so much.
‘Again, I think with how great Vlatko [Andonovski] and the staff have been, and our entire support staff have been, in really allowing us that space and just acknowledging it and being able to talk about it. It’s not something that nobody’s talking about or nobody feels any kind of shame in bringing up. It’s something that’s very open between all of us.
‘I think that’s very helpful. But we’ve had to shoulder a lot on this team. I think we have a lot of experience, particularly with the older group, whether it was the lawsuit or equal pay, or kneeling or whatever it may be. I think we have a bit of experience in that and that older players can help shield and shoulder a lot of whether it’s media attention or just kind of like, what we do, how to act.
Former US Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates conducted the investigation on the NWSL
US national team captain Rapinoe thanked The Athletic’s Meg Linehan for her report
When the scandal broke last year, Alex Morgan tweeted: ‘The league was informed of these allegations multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate the allegations. The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse
‘Probably as a younger player, you’re like, “What the f*** is going on? How do I even deal with this?” They can always look to us just as we could always look to our older players.’
Governing body US Soccer said it would move immediately to implement reforms. One of the teams named in the report, the Portland Thorns, fired two key executives and they also announced the dismissals of President of Soccer Gavin Wilkinson and President of Business Mike Golub, both of whom were also fired from the MLS’ Portland Timbers.
A day prior, team owner Merritt Paulson said he would remove himself from ‘Thorns-related decision making.’
But Rapinoe said Paulson and Armin Whistler, owner of Chicago Red Stars – another of the teams mentioned report, are ‘not fit’ to be in charge of NWSL clubs.
Five of 10 NWSL coaches either were fired or stepped down last season amid allegations of misconduct. Among them was North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley, who was dismissed after two former players, Mana Shim (right) and Sinead Farrelly (left), accused him of sexual coercion and harassment dating back a decade. Riley denied the allegations
US Soccer commissioned the investigation by Yates and the law firm King & Spaulding after former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Shim came forward with allegations of harassment and sexual coercion dating back a decade involving former coach Paul Riley (pictured), who has denied the allegations
‘For players playing right now it’s essential that we know we’re being taken care of and supported in all the right ways and everybody is working in and around the league has the same goal and same understanding of what the level is and what the responsibility are.
‘So without accountability and the people specifically who did the wrong thing being gone, it just says to us that no one is really hearing us so obviously the firings in Portland, we’ll see what happens with management but I don’t think Merritt Paulson is fit to be an owner of that team, I don’t think Armin [Whistler] is fit to be the owner of Chicago.
‘And we need to see those people be gone so people who are fit and who will take care of the game and respect the game and help the game grow in the best way possible will replace them so we can continue to not only have accountability and continue to bolster the policies and everything around the league but help the league grow.’
Portland Thorns fans hold signs referencing player abuse during a game in 2021
The investigation focused on three former coaches: Riley, Christy Holly (left) of Racing Louisville and Rory Dames (right) of the Chicago Red Stars
Rapinoe went on talk more about having to deal with toxicity in the women’s game.
‘I feel like we sort of know it, unfortunately we have a bit of practice and I think we’re used to historically being spoken to in a negative way or condescending and that’s just something that we’ve had to overcome. I don’t think it should be like that but incredibly proud of the players globally in how we were able to take that on and continue to do our job.
‘This week is a little bit harder to compartmentalize for sure, I think the Yates report was just devastating in every single way. Even when you know some of the information, just to read it plainly and have it spelled out like that, that is just horrible.
NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement that the league is referring the allegations to the US Center for SafeSport for investigation. She has since resigned from her position
Farrelly (pictured) said the harassment she experienced began in 2011 when she was a player with the Philadelphia Independence of the Women’s Professional Soccer league
‘We always wish we never had to do this, we wish we never had to file a lawsuit or do any of the things that we’ve had to do that we’ve spoken about but it’s not the reality so it’s something this team has always taken pride in and that we leave the game in a better place, and I think the game’s already in a better place following this report than it was the day before it came out.’
Rapinoe was speaking ahead of the game against England at Wembley on Friday. Beth Mead confirmed that the Lionesses would make a show of solidarity with the US players while Lucy Bronze has praised the bravery of those who have spoken out.
‘It means everything,’ Rapinoe said of the English players’ support. ‘I think for so long, we have felt, I think our women’s national team gets a lot of attention globally for things off the field but it’s all of us.
Shim, one of the whistle blowers, was failed by her club, league, and the system at large, according to her friend and former teammate, US National Team star Alex Morgan (pictured)
Shim says she first complained about Riley in 2015 when she played for him on the Portland Thorns. But while the team declined to re-sign him when his contract expired, he was still hired by the NWSL’s Western New York Flash the following season and by the Courage in 2017
‘I think in so many ways – even just us watching their Euros run, you couldn’t help but want them to bring it home. I think there’s general support around the world for all of our different Federations and teams.
‘Obviously, to have this happen in our country, in our league, and to be able to bring that here in a very special moment for for England, playing Wembley, sold out, the whole deal, to have them acknowledge, obviously, what we’re going through and I think, as Lucy [Bronze] said, there’s no report that came out here, but I’m sure that there could be one, just as there could be one in likely every single country, which is a really sad reality.
‘But I feel like there’s just so much solidarity between the things that we have to fight for. Come the time, we will be competing on the pitch, but I feel like everything before that, we’re all fighting together for the same things.’