Abcarian: Harassment and abuse? Just another day in women’s soccer

There are so many disturbing allegations in last week’s bombshell report of abusive behavior and sexual misconduct by women in professional football: coaches grooming players, forcing sex, bullying, retaliation for spurned advances, vulgar verbal abuse.

The report was commissioned by US Soccer and conducted by an all-female investigative team led by former US Deputy Atty. General Sally Q. Yates focuses on the behavior of three male trainers, none of whom are happily training anymore.

Spotted portrait illustration of Robin Abcarian

opinion columnist

Robin Abcarian

“As the season progressed,” one Portland Thorns player wrote in a 2014 poll of her coach Paul Riley, “we got used to being called dumb, dumb, slow, idiotic, retarded, we don’t have balls, we will.” it will never be better than the average 16-year-old boy, worthless and the list goes on.”

And that’s the mild stuff.

The report details how the trio – Riley, Christy Holly and Rory Dames – allegedly exploited gamers psychologically, emotionally and sexually. It describes how the National Women’s Soccer League, formed in 2012, and its parent organization, the US Soccer Association, had no protocols to protect female athletes and hardly do today. (The former coaches have denied all allegations.)

The report notes that bad behavior by coaches isn’t limited to this threesome. However, their behavior was among the most egregious and was found to be an open secret.

“Rory has been an A-hole the entire time I’ve known him – from the second I heard him on the sidelines, in season one [I] ever played,” said soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe Thursday in London, where she is representing the United States at the World Cup. “Paul is the same. I didn’t know Christy Holly personally, but everything I heard about him was awful.”

Athletes said they risked retaliation and career damage for years if they dared to report certain instances of wrongdoing. Still, nothing has ever changed; the reports always seemed to end up in a bureaucratic black hole.

In annual surveys, athletes repeatedly complained about poor treatment and below-average living and training conditions. There was no accountability. And even when a coach was eventually fired for his abusive behavior, there was no public statement from the team or the league, investigators found. It was widely acknowledged that he would move on to the next team to train – and abuse – again.

Football officials, the report makes painfully clear, are focused on avoiding litigation and legal exposure, not protecting athletes, the lifeblood of their industry.

The players, three-quarters of whom made less than $31,000 a year until recently, said they were told to keep bad news in the family; that speaking out against coaches, teams or the league would endanger the survival of professional women’s football, which has a precarious history. They were told to be thankful to even be able to play professional football.

It wasn’t until two former Portland Thorns, Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly, shared explosive stories about Riley with the Athletic that women’s professional football was forced to act.

“There wasn’t a single trigger,” Athletic’s Meg Linehan wrote. “It was incident after incident that built on itself, revealing the magnitude of the sport’s problems and leading players to understand that the only way to make big changes was to refuse to remain silent.”

Farrelly said Riley forced her to have sex and demanded that she and Shim, who are both gay, kiss in front of him in exchange for breaking up a team’s “suicide drill” the next day. A few years earlier, while coaching her in Philadelphia, Riley told Farrelly that accepting a spot on the 2011 World Cup roster would be an act of disloyalty to her team, the Independence. According to Athletic, Riley told her she deserved to be on the team “but only if.” he trained it.”

Imagine the effect this type of gaslighting has on a player’s psyche.

Shortly after the Athletic exposé, members of the Chicago Red Stars called for an investigation her Team culture and the behavior of their coach Rory Dames. The team hired a psychologist who, according to the Yates report, “concluded unequivocally that Dames’ yelling, belittling/humiliating, rejecting, and isolating players constituted ongoing emotional and verbal abuse.”

The psychologist also said there is no evidence in the scientific literature that gambler abuse motivates them. Do we really need science to tell us that?

The report contains many recommendations on how the league and the association need to change. Chief among them is the establishment of a system of transparency. teams got to Share information about coaches’ misconduct and turn off the “thanks for your service, we wish you well” rejections that allow abusers to continue coaching.

And although the report focuses on what has been described by professional football coaches as a spate of horrific behavior, one of the most alarming observations across the 300+ pages is that the phenomenon is rooted in youth football. Some professional coaches, including Dames and Riley, have youth football schools that act as pipelines to collegiate teams.

Dames still owns Chicago’s Eclipse Select Soccer Club, where he is reportedly known for his “tirades against young girls,” including calling his players “fat ass,” “pussy,” “retarded,” and “bitches.” .

Why on earth would young players – or their parents – tolerate that?

It’s simple: “We all wanted college scholarships,” one former Eclipse player told investigators, “so we all had to deal with that.”

Of even greater concern, the report says, is that the more a player is abused, the more normal the abuse will appear.

“An overwhelming number of players, coaches and USSF staff have observed that women players are conditioned to accept and respond to abusive coaching behavior as youth players,” it said. “Once they reach the professional level, many do not recognize the behavior as abusive.”

That thought should make any parent whose daughters dream of playing professional football shudder. Nobody should have to give up their self-esteem to be successful in sports.

@AbcarianLAT Abcarian: Harassment and abuse? Just another day in women’s soccer

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