The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

USWNT stars say U.S. Soccer ‘stood by’ amid alleged abuses by coach

Alex Morgan, left, and Christen Press are among the national team stars who wrote a letter to U.S. Soccer leadership pressing for transparency in the wake of abuse allegations. (Francois Nel/Getty Images)

Some of the biggest stars of the U.S. women’s national team publicly criticized the U.S. Soccer Federation, the sport’s powerful governing body, for “willful inaction” in the wake of revelations Tuesday in The Washington Post that a longtime coach in the National Women’s Soccer League, Rory Dames, had been accused of misconduct with youth players decades earlier.

“U.S. Soccer had the obligation to protect its players — yet it stood by as abuse continued to occur unchecked,” the players wrote Wednesday in a letter addressed to federation president Cindy Parlow Cone and former president Carlos Cordeiro. In the case of Dames and other NWSL coaches accused of abuse last year, the players alleged, the federation “failed to do the bare minimum — to keep us and the young girls who play in the youth leagues safe.”

The letter, signed by top players including Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Crystal Dunn, is a sign of a growing focus on U.S. Soccer in the wake of a wave of revelations of abuse allegations against male NWSL coaches that began last year. U.S. Soccer oversaw the NWSL for most of its 10-year existence, and it oversees the country’s sprawling youth soccer system, licensing youth and professional coaches.

In October, following sexual misconduct allegations against former coach Paul Riley, the federation enlisted former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates to investigate the league.

In a statement, a U.S. Soccer spokesman said the organization shared “the concerns from the USWNT players about allegations of abusive behavior and sexual misconduct.” The spokesman said the organization had given Yates “full autonomy, access and the necessary resources to follow the facts and evidence wherever they may lead. We are looking forward to the report from Ms. Yates and her team, and are committed to making those findings public.”

The players are part of an ongoing lawsuit against U.S. Soccer over equal pay, alleging the federation underpaid them for years compared with their male counterparts.

A prominent soccer coach was accused of misconduct decades ago. He rose to power anyway.

In their letter, the national team players demanded that U.S. Soccer commit to releasing the “full findings” of the investigation, which was launched in October, and “commit to enacting meaningful institutional reforms to protect players.”

They also criticized U.S. Soccer for failing to take action against coaches accused of abuse while the investigation was ongoing. Though Dames had been publicly accused of verbal and emotional abuse, as well as breaking the boundaries of the player-coach relationship, by NWSL players in November, U.S. Soccer did not suspend his coaching license following those allegations. His license was suspended only after The Post reached out to the federation with questions about allegations of sexual misconduct raised by former youth soccer players last month.

“USSF should have immediately removed coaching licenses from abusers. Instead, USSF allowed those individuals to coach while saying it would investigate,” the players wrote.

U.S. Club Soccer, a separate nonprofit that is a member of the US Soccer Federation, did disqualify Dames from coaching in Nov. 2021, after the NWSL players’ complaints were made public, according to a U.S. Club Soccer spokesman.

Cordeiro said in a statement that he agreed with the players that the federation should not wait for the results of the investigation to act. “U.S. Soccer should take immediate actions to make sure that all players are protected and nothing like this ever happens again.” He called the revelations of abuse “horrific.”

One of the players who signed the letter, Christen Press, told The Post last year that she twice had tried to raise alarms to U.S. Soccer about Dames — including in 2018, when she filed a formal complaint alleging he had been emotionally abusive.

‘Nobody cares’: NWSL players say U.S. Soccer failed to act on abuse claims against Red Stars coach

U.S. Soccer, which at the time was led by Cordeiro, investigated but did not take any action against Dames that year, allowing him to continue coaching three more seasons. Dames resigned last year, hours before The Post published allegations by Press and other players that he had been emotionally abusive. In his statement to The Post on Wednesday, Cordeiro denied knowing about Press’s allegations while he was president, saying he learned of them only when The Post published its article last year.

Cordeiro is running against Parlow Cone for the U.S. Soccer presidency. He stepped down in 2020 amid widespread backlash over U.S. Soccer’s legal arguments in its equal pay case that female athletes were less skilled than their male counterparts and worked less demanding jobs. He also denied being aware of the use of those legal arguments.

In a 1998 police report obtained by The Post, an Illinois police officer looking into players’ allegations against Dames said he contacted U.S. Soccer as part of his investigation. It’s unclear what, if any, steps U.S. Soccer took in response.

“Over the years, while we played on the USWNT and in the National Women’s Soccer League, many of us reported to USSF instances where, as adults, we experienced abusive conduct by our coaches,” the players wrote in the letter. “Now we have learned that this abusive treatment also was repeatedly reported by minors and that USSF failed to respond to protect these young players. That is utterly disheartening.”

This story has been updated to include the response by U.S. Club Soccer.

Read more NWSL news

Exclusive: Former NWSL coach Rory Dames was accused by youth players of misconduct decades ago, records and interviews show. He coached his way to power and prominence anyway.

Steve Baldwin agreed to sell his controlling stake in the Washington Spirit to Y. Michele Kang, ending a long and contentious fight over who would own the National Women’s Soccer League champions.

Uproar over player abuse has shined an uncomfortable light on the culture and labor practices of the NWSL, which has mostly been dominated in its coaching and ownership ranks by men.

Black girls are more apt to drop out of sports. This mentorship program aims to change that.

“In the NWSL, women have been treated like poker chips in a game dominated by male team owners and decision-makers.” Read Candace Buckner.