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NWSL after the Sally Yates report: live updates

Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Developments continue to unfold following the public release of Sally Yates’ report into abuse in women’s soccer. Bookmark this page to keep up with all the major developments in real time. Below, you’ll find links and news updates to the story in reverse chronological order.

Saturday, Oct. 15

3 p.m. ET: Chicago Red Stars defender Arin Wright and midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo answer questions ahead of the team’s playoff game against San Diego Wave FC. It is the first time Red Stars players have spoken publicly since the Yates report and their team statement on Oct. 10 that called for the removal of majority owner Arnim Whisler.

Wright says that there has been no communication between Whisler and players, but that communication has been open with the club’s new board. Wright describes the feeling as “liberating.”

Thursday, Oct. 13

USA Curling’s board of directors doubles down on support of Jeff Plush despite the DEI task force’s demands, saying it is “confident in Jeff’s ability to continue as an effective leader of the organization” and noting that Plush has agreed to “fully cooperate” with the ongoing NWSL/NWSLPA joint investigation.

Wednesday, Oct. 12

10 p.m. ET: USA Curling’s DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) task force calls for, among other things, the immediate removal of Jeff Plush as CEO of USA Curling for his inaction in his previous role as NWSL commissioner. Plush was commissioner when Paul Riley was hired by the Western New York Flash following his dismissal from Portland Thorns FC. Plush did not respond to Yates’ investigation team.

Tuesday, Oct. 11

12:30 p.m. ET: Merritt Paulson steps down as CEO of the Portland Thorns and Timbers, but does not say he will sell the team. In his statement announcing the news, Paulson says: “Our organization’s failures and mistakes were ultimately my responsibility, and my responsibility alone.”

Portland fans had called for Paulson to sell the teams, and they reiterate that almost immediately following the announcement.

Paulson appears to allude to the idea that this is not the final step in accountability, tacitly acknowledging the calls (including by some players) for him to sell: “Given the complexities involved on several levels finalizing the correct path forward will take time.”

Heather Davis will serve as the club’s interim CEO. Davis appointed Sarah Keane as interim COO, and Keane will lead a search for a full-time CEO.

Monday, Oct. 10

5:30 p.m. ET: The Chicago Red Stars announce Kim Vender Moffat as the new chairwoman of the team’s board of directors, replacing disgraced principal owner Arnim Whisler, who was removed from the chair last week. Mike Ernst is also named interim chief business officer following the resignation of Vicky Lynch, who said in a statement earlier in the day that she felt misled about what Whisler and the club knew when she started in her role last year.

4:30 p.m. ET: Amanda Cromwell and Sam Greene, who briefly served as head coach and assistant coach of the Orlando Pride, respectively, have had their contracts terminated by the NWSL following the NWSL/NWSLPA joint investigation. Cromwell and Greene “are ineligible to work in the NWSL in any capacity unless or until approved by the commissioner.”

Investigators in March 2022 looked into “allegations of verbal abuse and improper favoritism toward players” by the pair, who received written warnings. Cromwell was required to participate in leadership training. In May, investigators received reports that Cromwell and Green “were engaging in retaliatory conduct towards players who they believed had initiated, participated in, and were supportive of the March investigation.”

Cromwell and Greene were found to have engaged in discouraging players from reporting and “fostered a general fear of retaliation, and to have taken negative actions against certain players, including by seeking to waive or trade them.”

Cromwell said in a tweet that she is reviewing her legal options, saying “the investigation lacked transparency, professionalism, and thoroughness, and as a result my character and integrity have been mischaracterized.” She’s “reviewing all legal options.” Cromwell was hired in December 2021.

3 p.m. ET: Chicago Red Stars players collectively issue a statement calling for the end of Arnim Whisler’s ownership of the team, noting that they were skeptical of his prior knowledge of former head coach Rory Dames’ abusive behavior, and “the extent of his dishonesty became claear” in the Sally Yates report.

“We are united with the Board of Directors in their decision to remove Whisler from the organization entirely and look forward to finding a new majority owner who can help us realize the full potential that we as players always knew existed for this club.”

1:30 p.m. ET: Portland Thorns FC forward and NWSL MVP candidate Sophia Smith says she hopes that fans will still show up for games, “because that’s one of the positive things we have left in Portland.”

Sunday, Oct. 9

4:30 p.m. ET: Gotham FC co-owner Steve Temares tells that he will remain “uninvolved” in governance of the club until the end of the NWSL/NWSLPA joint investigation. Temares is named in the Yates report for the reference he provided Racing Louisville over the hiring of Christy Holly.

Former Racing Louisville president Brad Estes says in the report that Temares told him he would “100%” hire Holly again, but that it wouldn’t work out in New Jersey, specifically. Temares only softly denies that in the Yates report, noting that he highlighted Holly’s positive and negative attributes in the reference.

Holly went on to allegedly sexually assault and defender Erin Simon while at Louisville, but the Yates reports details that the behaviors began years earlier.

1 p.m. ET: Alaska Airlines, a longtime sponsor of the Portland Thorns and Timbers and the jersey-front sponsor of the Timbers, says it is redirecting this quarter’s sponsorship money from the club to the NWSLPA’s find to support players directly.

Saturday, Oct. 8

12:30 p.m. ET: The players of Racing Louisville share a statement commending the bravery of their former teammate Erin Simon and expressing hope that the NWSL and NWSLPA joint investigation “will continue to uncover the remaining truths we deserve and demand.” They also clearly call on the club to cooperate fully with the investigation, after the Yates report stated that Racing Louisville took actions that hindered their investigation (pg.25-27).

Shortly after, the club shared a response statement with reporters that, in part, pledges to cooperate fully with the NWSL/NWSLPA joint and independent investigation, specifcally providing “the materials and access needed to complete the process.”

Thursday, Oct. 6

3 p.m. ET: The NWSL Players Association issues a statement providing some details of the ongoing joint investigation with the league. The statement notes that their investigation’s scope includes every existing NWSL club dating back to the NWSL’s inception in 2013, and “includes every instance of inappropriate conduct towards players by individuals in positions of power.”

The full statement:

October 6, 2022 – The NWSL Players Association again thanks Sally Yates and her team at King & Spalding for their findings and recommendations. As we have all digested the report, outrage is justified. What we, as players, have felt and experienced for far too long is somewhere beyond the point of outrage.

As Players, we have chosen to focus our outrage into a singular mission: to identify everything and everyone that failed us so that we can develop strategies that will prevent this from ever happening again. 

The scope of our joint investigation includes every instance of inappropriate conduct towards players by individuals in positions of power at every existing NWSL Club since 2013 and seeks to trace it back to its origins. While the findings and recommendations in the Yates report are significant and disturbing, it is not the end of the story.  There is more to learn and more to understand.  For this reason, we support the recommendation in the Yates report that the NWSL should determine whether discipline is warranted in light of both the Yates report findings and the findings of the Joint Investigation.   

There is a strategic benefit to the Players in having two separate investigations. According to the Yates report, among the inhibitors to U.S. Soccer’s investigation were the non-cooperation of Portland, Chicago, and Louisville. What individuals at those clubs knew and when is crucial to having a complete understanding of what and who failed us, and why. Our pending joint investigation gives those clubs–and all others with relevant information–the opportunity to produce that information immediately, enabling us to marshal facts that the U.S. Soccer investigation could not. These clubs must answer to the Players through the joint investigation, where the Players Association has both an oversight role and the independence to call it like we see it. With their cooperation, we can dig deeper than the U.S. Soccer investigation was able to.

As Players, we deserve the full truth, and through the truth, transformation. We support the decision of Clubs to finally take action in response to what has long been known, but we demand that these Clubs also make those individuals available now for interviews to aid in the joint investigation. We cannot actually fix what is broken if we don’t know everything and everyone that failed us. We also believe that we must go further. Our joint investigation is the vehicle for formulating a clear, accurate, and evidence-based set of permanent recommendations to NWSL in order to achieve our fundamental goal: protecting players now and in the future. 

It will be difficult for all of us – Players, most of all – to await the conclusion of the joint investigation to understand what those lasting recommendations must be. Short-term solutions may be satisfying, but they are not enough. This is our opportunity to create a better future for all who come behind us. We must get it right. 

Until then, we will relentlessly seek the truth to leave no stone unturned. The Players deserve at least that much. 

9:30 a.m: ET: Megan Rapinoe takes the microphone ahead of Friday’s United States-England game at Wembley Stadium. She says players are emotionally exhuasted, and notes multiple times that they’ve grown used to dealing with these types of situations. She reiterates what U.S. captain Becky Sauerbrunn said on Tuesday, that NWSL owners and executives who enabled abuse should be removed. Rapinoe specifically names Portland Thorns (and Timbers) owner Merritt Paulson, and Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler:

“I don’t think that Merritt Paulson is fit to be the owner of [Portland]. I don’t think Arnim [Whisler] is fit to be the owner of chicago. We need to see those people gone so people who are fit, who will take care of the game, respect the game and help the game grow the best way possible, can replace them.”

Wednesday, Oct. 5

8 p.m. ET: The Chicago Red Stars board of directors announces that it voted to remove Arnim Whisler as chairman, immediately transition him out of a board seat, and “codify his removal from any further participation with either club or board operations.”

“The Board was deeply disappointed after reading the Yates report and believes the club cannot move forward in rebuilding trust with players, staff and the Red Stars community with his continued involvement. Job one for board members is to continue building a culture where players, and all who work at the club, feel that they are in a safe and supportive environment. Lastly, the board wants to extend its gratitude for all who displayed such bravery in sharing their stories. Thank you for coming forward.”

7:30 p.m. ET: Louisville City FC, which shares ownership with Racing Louisville FC, kicks off a USL game. Supporters roll out signs that say “ARREST HOLLY” (referring to Christy Holly) and “J.O.C. OUT” (a call for club president James O’Connor to be fired).

3:45 p.m. ET: Racing Louisville FC president James O’Connor releases a letter reiterating that hiring Christy Holly was a mistake. The letter includes an apology to Erin Simon. It goes on to state that the club is very different than it was in August 2021 when Holly was fired after Simon came forward with complaints about inappropriate behavior.

1:30 p.m. ET: Less than 24 hours after Portland Thorns/Timbers owner/operator Merritt Paulson announced that they would “step aside,” Mike Golub and Gavin Wilkinson are fired. Golub was president of business for the club and Wilkinson was president of soccer. Golub had been with the organization since 2009, while Wilkinson was there for almost two decades in different roles, including as a Timbers player in the second division.

Thorns veteran and United States women’s national team captain Becky Sauerbrunn had called for the removal of all enablers on Monday afternoon, and she said that included from her own club. Portland supporters also called for the removal of the two men, as well as for Paulson to sell the team. Paulson remains in his role but announced on Monday that he would remove himself from Thorns-related decision making until the NWSL and NWSLPA joint investigation is complete.

Golub was previously accused of creating a “toxic” work environment for women and was named in Monday’s Yates report for allegedly saying to now U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone, who was the Thorns coach in 2013, “What’s on your bucket list besides sleeping with me?”

Wilkinson previously had his title of Thorns general manager removed for his role in failing to fully report and investigate Paul Riley in 2015.

Karina LeBlanc, who joined the club in late 2021, will remain Thorns general manager. General counsel Heather Davis will serve as interim president.

Tuesday, Oct. 4

9 p.m. ET: Washington Spirit owner Michele Kang, who took control of the team in early 2022 after a power struggle with Steve Baldwin — who allegedly fostered a toxic environment and lost the support of players — releases a statement about building a better league.

7 p.m. ET: Longtime Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler announces that he is removing himself from his governance role on the NWSL board and “will hand over operational control of the club to our executive team in Chicago.” Multiple players in Yates’ report said that Whisler knew of former Red Stars head coach Rory Dames’ abusive behavior, and the report details the several ways in which Whisler acted in defense of Dames against the direction of NWSL and/or U.S. Soccer counsel.

Current NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman immediately releases her own statement saying that Chicago and Portland took “important steps” today, and mentioning the goal of having the joint investigation released by the end of the year.

7 p.m. ET: ESPN’s E:60 documentary detailing abuse in the league begins airing on ESPN and ESPN+. Much of the details within it are already known, but featured in the documentary are interviews with several people who previously had not spoken to media since their terminations from their respective jobs. Former NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird denies she ignored any complaints, while ex-Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke, who was banned from the league after an investigation into allegedly abusive behavior, used the term “cancel culture.”

3:30 p.m. ET: United States and Portland captain Becky Sauerbrunn says that any owners or executives in the NWSL and U.S. Soccer who repeatedly failed to protect player safety “should be gone” from their positions and the sport. She did not mention Portland owner Merritt Paulson by name, but confirmed that she is talking about him and Portland executives among others. Alana Cook speaks alongside Sauerbrunn in a pre-scheduled press conference. U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski follows, saying he was “in disbelief. I have the emotion of sickness and [I’m disgusted].”

Andonovski also confirms that he was interviewed for the report about Christy Holly, but does not say that he ever recommended the club hire Holly.

3 p.m. ET: Portland Thorns owner/operator Merritt Paulson says he is stepping away from all Thorns-related decision making. He says that Mike Golub and Gavin Wilkinson will do the same. He does not say whether he will sell the Thorns, or step away from NWSL board governance.

3:24 a.m. ET: Portland Supporters collectively call for Mike Golub and Gavin Wilkinson to be fired, and for Merritt Paulson to sell the team. The groups say they are “suspending relations” with the club despite the upcoming NWSL and MLS playoffs.

Monday, Oct. 3

1 p.m. ET: Sally Yates’ report, one year in the making, is released. Included in it are several stories that were known previously through investigative reporting, along with many new revelations, from the knowledge that former NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush and former U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati had of what Paul Riley did in Portland, to the blame game multiple parties around the league played for Racing Louisville’s hiring of Christy Holly. The report features graphic descriptions of Holly’s sexual abuse of a former player.

NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman immediately issues a statement, but teams league-wide remains silent.

USA Curling follows with a statement that CEO Jeff Plush, who was NWSL commissioner from 2014-2017, “acted in accordance with prioritizing the safety of athletes” according to that federation’s independent investigation. Plush is cited several times in the Yates report as having known about Paul Riley’s dismissal from Portland in 2015. Plush did not reply to investigators’ requests for an interview.


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