NWSL: Becky Sauerbrunn: Officials who failed to protect players ‘should be gone’


Becky Sauerbrunn, a longtime member of the U.S. women’s national team and a defender for the NWSL’s Portland Thorns, said Tuesday that any team owner or official still in the league who failed to protect players from abuse needs to be removed.

Sauerbrunn spoke to reporters in London ahead of the Americans’ friendly against England on Friday. On Monday, attorney Sally Q. Yates and King & Spalding LLP released a scathing report that said the NWSL and the U.S. Soccer Federation repeatedly failed to act when players reported abuse by their coaches.

Sauerbrunn, 37, said it’s been incumbent on players for too long to speak out and “demand change,” when the onus should have been on the sport’s governing bodies to create a safer environment.

“What and who are you actually protecting and what values are you upholding? You have failed in your stewardship,” Sauerbrunn said.

“And it’s my opinion that every owner and executive and U.S. Soccer official who has repeatedly failed the players and failed to protect the players, who have hidden behind legalities and have not participated fully in these investigations should be gone.”

Half of the NWSL’s 10 head coaches were fired in 2021 following players’ complaints, leading the league to retain Yates, a former U.S. deputy attorney general, to conduct an independent investigation.

The Yates report revealed previously unknown allegations, primarily surrounding former Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly, who was accused of groping one of his players multiple times as a form of punishment during a one-on-one film session.

Thorns owner Merritt Paulson announced Tuesday that he was removing himself from “all Thorns-related decision making” until the conclusion of a joint investigation by the NWSL and the players’ association into allegations in Portland.

Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler, whom ignored complaints about inappropriate actions from coach Rory Dames last year, also stepped away from his role leading the team on Tuesday. Dames ultimately resigned last November.

Whisler wrote in a statement, “Our organization is committed to rebuilding trust and respect among players and staff towards our league and club, and I recognize that my current presence is a distraction. I do not want to take any of the attention away from the players’ incredible and well earned playoff run.

“So in the interest of the club and the players, and fans we serve, effective immediately, I will remove myself from my governance role within the NWSL board of governors and will hand over operational control of the club to our executive team in Chicago.”

Sauerbrunn made clear her remarks were directed at anyone who was complicit in not addressing players’ concerns, including the team owners.

“It includes everyone that has continued to fail the players time and time again, who didn’t take concerns seriously, who didn’t pass on information correctly, who have not participated in investigations,” she said. “All of them.”

–Field Level Media

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