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Houston Dash suspends coach as NWSL investigation continues

Head coach and general manager James Clarkson has been suspended by the Houston Dash. (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
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James Clarkson, head coach and general manager of the National Women’s Soccer League’s Houston Dash, on Friday denied allegations stemming from an ongoing leaguewide investigation of what the team called “current and historic complaints of discrimination, harassment and abuse” in the NWSL.

The Dash on Tuesday suspended Clarkson pending the results of the investigation, a joint effort between the NWSL and its Players Association that began last year.

“I am totally shocked by unfounded and baseless allegations that have not yet been explained in any formal way,” he said in a statement given to The Washington Post and other outlets. “I have had an unblemished career in soccer as a player and coach for 30 years. During that time, I have always demonstrated respect for players, coaches, and everyone else with whom I have worked. The vague allegations of wrongdoing that have been published worldwide are not just completely false but also incredibly hurtful to my family and damaging to my reputation and career. Going forward, I have instructed my lawyers to help me fight vigorously to clear my name, and I am confident that will happen in the end.”

Initial findings from the investigation led to the team’s decision, it said in a statement. The Dash said it would decide Clarkson’s future when the final report is issued.

“As an organization, our highest priority is creating and maintaining a safe and respectful work environment for our players and staff, which we believe is critical to our success on the pitch,” the Dash said in a statement. “The club has made counseling services available to all members of the organization interested.”

The NWSL and the NWSL Players Association had recommended Clarkson be “suspended immediately pending the conclusion” of the investigation. In addition to that investigation, the U.S. Soccer Federation hired former acting attorney general Sally Yates to conduct an independent probe, which is also in progress.

“Players made a promise to ourselves and future generations to transform our League — not through words, but with our actions,” NWSLPA Executive Director Meghann Burke said in a joint statement by the league and the players association. “This shows that our joint investigation is doing the work of systemic transformation. The work continues, and we commend Players for speaking up and speaking out.”

NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman, who began in that role last week, thanked the team for taking “swift action” and for those who raised concerns. The NWSL has been rocked by accusations of sexual and abusive misconduct, resulting in three coaching changes and the resignation of its commissioner.

'He made me hate soccer': Players say they left NWSL’s Spirit over coach’s verbal abuse

The league also investigated but took no action against the Dash after a Black player for the Chicago Red Stars said a security guard in Houston treated her and her boyfriend inappropriately because of their race.

In August, the Washington Spirit fired coach Richie Burke after reports in The Washington Post about verbal and emotional abuse. By mid-October, owner Steve Baldwin put the team up for sale amid player demands as the scandal unfolded.

In October, the players union demanded an end to “systemic abuse plaguing the NWSL” in the wake of reporting from the Athletic that Paul Riley, then the coach of the North Carolina Courage, had sexually coerced multiple players. Although he denied the accusations, Riley ultimately was fired.

Former NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird announced that matches would not be played over the first weekend of the month. “I am so sorry for the pain so many are feeling,” Baird said in a statement announcing the decision, which came shortly before her resignation.

The next month, Rory Dames resigned as coach of the Red Stars over accusations that he had crossed a line into what players believed was verbal and emotional abuse: controlling, berating and humiliating players and breaking the boundaries of the player-coach relationship.

Clarkson, 50, was named coach of the Dash before the 2019 season and had previously been academy director for Houston’s MLS team, the Dynamo. He also coached the club’s Premier Development League affiliate.

The Dash’s season opener is Sunday against the San Diego Wave.

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