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4 former NWSL coaches are banned permanently following an abuse investigation

Portland Thorns fans hold signs in October 2021 during the first half of the team's National Women's Soccer League soccer match against the Houston Dash in Portland, Ore.
Steve Dipaola
Portland Thorns fans hold signs in October 2021 during the first half of the team's National Women's Soccer League soccer match against the Houston Dash in Portland, Ore.

The National Women's Soccer League announced permanent bans for four coaches and sanctions for eight more employees on Monday after an investigation found widespread, systemic misconduct and abuse.

Former coaches Paul Riley of the Portland Thorns and the North Carolina Courage, Rory Dames of the Chicago Red Stars, Richie Burke of the Washington Spirit, and Christy Holly of Racing Louisville were permanently banned.

Riley and Holly engaged in sexual misconduct and verbal abuse across multiple teams, and Dames and Burke engaged in emotional abuse and made racist and sexist remarks to players, according to the report jointly released by NWSL and its players association last month detailing the findings of their joint investigation.

Former Utah Royals coach Craig Harrington and former Gotham general manager Alyse LaHue were also suspended from the NWSL for two years.

"The league will continue to prioritize implementing and enhancing the policies, programs and systems that put the health and safety of our players first," commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement Monday.

The 14-month investigation began in October 2021 after two players publicly accused Riley of sexual misconduct, and revealed persistent misconduct across the league dating back to its founding in 2012. In a statement when the NWSL report was released in December, Berman said the league had "systemically failed to protect our players."

Four additional coaches' and two assistants' future employment is conditional upon accepting responsibility for wrongdoing, participating in training and demonstrating a commitment to correcting their behavior.

The league also fined several teams, with amounts based on the severity of the misconduct and whether individuals in positions of power knew or should have known about the misconduct. The largest were issued to the Portland Thorns, which were fined $1 million, and the Chicago Red Stars, which were fined $1.5 million.

U.S. Soccer also commissioned an independent investigation, which was released in October 2022 and detailed similar findings. It also found that patterns of abuse from coaches often begin in youth sports.

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Kaitlyn Radde
Kaitlyn Radde is an intern for the Graphics and Digital News desks, where she has covered everything from the midterm elections to child labor. Before coming to NPR, she covered education data at Chalkbeat and contributed data analysis to USA TODAY coverage of Black political representation and NCAA finances. She is a graduate of Indiana University.
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