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NWSLPA announces committee for investigation, says all demands have been met

Photo Copyright Lewis Gettier for The Equalizer

The NWSL Players Association announced on Friday that all eight demands issued to the National Women’s Soccer League on Oct. 6 have been met. Interim NWSL CEO Marla Messing stated as much in her first media call on Oct. 20, but the PA’s announcement on Friday provide confirmation and further details of the league’s path forward.

Among the big items is a collaborative, league-wide investigation into any potentially inappropriate conduct from anyone within the NWSL. The PA announced that the league has agreed to “a transparent investigation overseen by a five-person committee.” Two of those five people will be representatives from the NWSLPA, joined by one person from the league, one club representative, and “one jointly selected neutral party.”

Messing announced last week that the PA and the league had agreed to collaborate on one joint investigation. This remains in addition to investigations which both the U.S. Soccer Federation and FIFA have separately said they will launch in reaction to a report of alleged sexual harassment and coercion by Paul Riley during, among other times, his tenure as Portland Thorns coach in 2014 and 2015, and the systemic failure which led to his rehiring. Riley was fired by the North Carolina Courage on the same day The Athletic released its report. NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird resigned the following day.

“The scope of the investigation will broadly review any instances of inappropriate conduct and seek to identify systemic failures to protect player health and safety,” the PA said in Friday’s press release. “The objective of this investigation is to seek the truth in order to develop evidence-based practices that will transform NWSL into one where player safety is at the forefront.”

NWSL play was suspended on the weekend following the Sept. 30 report. When games resumed on Oct. 6, players stopped each match six minutes in to lock arms in solidarity in the center circle, to recognize the six years it took for the stories of Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly to be heard, as well as Kaiya McCullough, who spoke about her experiences in an allegedly racist and toxic environment with the Washington Spirit under former head coach Richie Burke.

The demands included a call for an independent, league-wide investigation, and a willingness of anyone in a position of power at a club to voluntarily submit themselves to that probe into abusive conduct. The PA also called for a “step-back policy” to suspend anyone under investigation while that process is ongoing, and the immediate disclosure of past investigations.

“Each of these demands is seen by the players as one step closer to the goal of taking our league back,” said Tori Huster, president of the NWSL Players Association and Washington Spirit player since the NWSL’s inception in 2013.

The PA is also still actively working with the league on ratifying a first collective bargaining agreement, a process which, in the past month-plus, now includes direct participation of some club leaders. The PA’s goal is to agree upon a CBA which creates better living and working conditions, as well as an agreement which will “rectify the systemic imbalance of power that has contributed to the multitude of problematic issues revealed this season.

“It is the Players Association’s hope that through a ratified collective bargaining agreement, a new story will be told for the 2022 NWSL season,” the PA’s statement reads.

The PA on Friday pledged a motto of “This is Only Beginning,” an indication of the path ahead.

“Throughout the history of our sport, it is players who have blazed the trail of change,” said NWSLPA executive director Meghann Burke, who is a former player. “We, as players, embrace this legacy. It is the call of our generation to make the game we love safer for future generations so that it reflects the best of our sport and the people in it.”

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