Nine current and former United States women’s national team players issued a statement to U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone and former president Carlos Cordeiro — who are each running for the seat in the upcoming U.S. Soccer election — “to demand full transparency and accountability in addressing these systemic problems.” The players referenced the latest report from the Washington Post which detailed decades of alleged abuse in youth soccer by former Chicago Red Stars head coach Rory Dames.
Dames was quietly allowed to resign in an announcement made around 1 a.m. ET on Nov. 22, two days after the Red Stars lost to the Washington Spirit in the National Women’s Soccer League Championship. Later that morning, the Post issued a scathing report about Dames’ mistreatment of current and former Chicago players. This week, a new report detailed allegations of sexual abuse at the youth level, where Dames has long been a powerful figure at the Chicago-based club Eclipse Select.
U.S. international Christen Press, who played in Chicago from 2014-2017, spoke on the record to the Post for the November story, detailing allegations of emotional abuse by Dames toward NWSL players. Press was the first name listed in Wednesday’s letter to Cone and Cordeiro. She was joined by Crystal Dunn, Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, Sam Mewis, Alex Morgan, Kelley O’Hara, Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn.
In this week’s letter to Parlow Cone and Cordeiro, the nine U.S. players say that many of them reported incidents of abuse by their coaches to the U.S. Soccer Federation as adults. It is “utterly disheartening,” they said, that minors reported incidents of abuse and the federation failed to protect them.
The latest Washington Post story details how Dames used his power and connections throughout the youth, college, and professional games to control young players. Multiple women in that report, who are now adults, detailed inappropriate comments and touching dating back to the late ’90s, with one woman saying that Dames “cultivated an inappropriate relationship with her from age 14” and waited until she was 18 to have sex with her. The Post report states that 14 former youth players alleged emotional and verbal abuse by Dames while they were teenagers.
Dames was investigated by police, the Post reports, but was not charged. Dames continued coaching and running Eclipse into a youth soccer powerhouse which turns out significant numbers of top college players, and he was the longest-tenured NWSL head coach until his departure in November. The Post reports that U.S. Soccer only suspended Dames’ coaching license after the federation was contacted about allegations in the latest story. Mike Nesci, who replaced Dames as president of Eclipse late last year, told the Post that Dames “voluntarily ceased” coaching Eclipse in October, but he did not respond to whether Dames was still involved with the club.
The Post’s November report detailed abuse at the pro level — where U.S. Soccer was long the manager of the NWSL — in which Press was among seven players who told the publication that they thought Dames was emotionally abusive. Press said in that story that she filed a formal complaint to U.S. Soccer in 2018 and spoke up to former U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati as early as 2014.
“But these players never should have had to turn to the press to protect themselves and future generations,” the players’ letter this week states. “USSF had the obligation to protect its players — yet it stood by as abuse continued to occur unchecked.”
The players demanded transparency and the release of the full report of an independent investigation which former U.S. attorney general Sally Yates is conducting on behalf of U.S. Soccer following reports of emotional, verbal and sexual abuse within the NWSL which saw half of the league’s teams fire coaches for cause last year.
Parlow Cone said in a response on Thursday that “we will share absolutely everything” from the report, promising to make the findings public. She also said, “The Washington Post article was the first that U.S. Soccer learned of the latest allegations concerning sexual abuse by Rory Dames.” The Post’s multiple reports call that into question; some officials at U.S. Soccer was at least aware of complaints from professional players for the past several years.
Yates issued a rare statement on Thursday night reiterating that U.S. Soccer is committed to making the findings of her investigation public. But she suggested in her closing that better cooperation is needed from some parties who have otherwise pledged public support for the investigation and reform:
“We are hopeful that all parties and organizations will quickly provide the requested relevant documents and information, consistent with their public commitments to cooperate in the investigation. Players deserve meaningful reform.”
Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler broke his months-long silence on Thursday, issuing a letter which included an apology implying that employees at the team in the past did not meet his standards for character and value. Dames was not named in the statement. The Post’s November report cited multiple sources claiming that Whisler was aware of the 2018 complaint against and investigation into Dames.
“I have spoken with many players and the experiences they have told me about are unacceptable,” Whisler’s statement reads. “I am further heartbroken this week after learning about the allegations from former youth players that involved the Red Stars former coach at the youth club he founded. There is no place for abuse of any kind in soccer — or anywhere.”
Since the team’s appearance in the NWSL Championship on Nov. 20 — and including the announcement of Dames’ departure — Chicago Red Stars press releases have quoted the team at large without attribution to any particular person. Whisler, who has been the team owner for over a decade and through multiple leagues, has typically been an active spokesperson for the team and, in recent years, the league. He has not given media interviews since Dames’ departure. The team has declined multiple requests to speak with Whisler or even interim coach Rade Tanaskovic — the Red Stars still don’t have a head coach despite preseason starting — from multiple media outlets over the past two months. On Thursday, the Red Stars issued his statement only to selective media members, and offered brief interviews with Whisler on Friday to only to select media members under the condition that questions be pre-screened.
Dames declined to speak to The Post for its story. His lawyer claimed that the allegations were false and lacked facts, and said U.S. Soccer “cleared” Dames in 2018 and “issued no sanctions against him and expressly permitted him to continue coaching.”
Players, as they have in the fight for safety within the NWSL, are demanding more.
“We will not stop fighting until we can ensure that this sport is safe for ourselves, for our daughters, and for every little girl who cheers us on and dreams of one day playing the sport we all love,” the nine players said in their letter to Parlow Cone and Cordeiro. “We hope your immediate actions will demonstrate that you both share this goal.”
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