NWSL will implement a “non-fraternization” policy after a second investigation found widespread abuses

The NWSL plans to implement a “non-fraternization policy” before the start of the 2023 season in March, the league told USA TODAY Sports. The policy change is in response to findings released Wednesday at the conclusion of a joint league-players association investigation into issues across the league.

The report detailed more of the already widespread abuses and “widespread misconduct” across the league, including coaches making demeaning sexual comments toward players. Over the past year, several players have shared traumatic stories about coaches forcing them into sexual relationships.

Similar to the Yates Report released two months ago and led by former U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates, the NWSL joint investigation uncovered numerous cases of emotional abuse.

THE RESULTS: Joint investigation by NWSL and NWSLPA finds “widespread misconduct” in women’s professional soccer

YATES REPORT: The investigation found “systemic” abuse of players while the NWSL and USSF remained silent

Policy changes recommended

One of the recommendations in Wednesday’s report was that the NWSL clarify its policy that prohibits sexual and/or romantic relationships between players and people in positions of power, including coaches.

Kirsten Brierley, a spokeswoman for the NWSL, told USA TODAY Sports in an email: “The Joint Investigative Team has raised important questions about relationships where power imbalances exist.” While our current anti-harassment policy addresses this issue, by design “The League to implement a new non-fraternization policy prior to the 2023 season that responds to the findings of the Joint Investigation Report recommendations.”

However, the league has not made clear how it will handle pre-existing and ongoing relationships that would be considered a power imbalance or that exist within the same organization. For example, Portland Thorns star Crystal Dunn is married to Thorns head athletic trainer Pierre Soubrier. They met while both were on the Washington Spirit and have been married since 2018.

Relationships within organizations are not uncommon

The current NWSL policy, available online, focuses more on bullying and harassment than on consensual relationships between players and those in power within the league.

Other women’s professional leagues have clearer rules in this area: The WNBA, which is owned and operated by the NBA, prohibits romantic relationships between players and basketball operations staff.

In women’s professional sports, it is not uncommon for athletes to date and even marry people within their organization, including coaches. Longtime WNBA all-star Diana Taurasi, for example, is married to former Phoenix Mercury assistant Penny Taylor. The two met and began dating when both played for the Mercury, and in 2019 Taurasi played under Taylor. They have been married since 2017 and have two children. Taylor left coaching in July 2020.

They are hardly the only high-profile example.

SALES TEAM: The owner of the Portland Thorns is selling the NWSL team due to the Yates report, but keeping the MLS’s Portland Timbers

GREAT INVESTORS: Fortune 500 companies are investing too much in NWSL: “If that scares a partner, they are not the right partner”

In November, former USWNT stars Brandi Chastain and Julie Foudy, who both married their former college coaches after graduating, told USA TODAY Sports that they had a new understanding of power dynamics in relationships.

“I didn’t understand the power imbalance inherent in these relationships until later in my career,” Foudy said, while Chastain said she had “a new understanding of the power imbalance inherent in the work/play environment. “Honestly, it’s nothing I’ve ever personally experienced.”

Foudy added that she wouldn’t advise her daughter to go down the same path because “I now understand the power imbalance and dynamics that occur in so many of these relationships that are not healthy, as we see in so many cases over and over again.” “have seen different environments and workplaces.”

Earlier this month, Portland Thorns coach Rhian Wilkinson resigned shortly after it was revealed she had an affair with Portland defender Emily Menges.

Although Wilkinson was cleared by the league of any wrongdoing regarding conduct and ethics, she told The Athletic: “Once you lose the locker room that I have, there’s no going back.” She resigned just weeks after she After leading Portland to the NWSL championship in her first season as head coach.

In New Jersey, former coach Christy Holly was effectively forced out of office in 2017 due to, among other things, his romantic relationship with Christie Pearce Rampone, a Sky Blue FC defender.

The joint investigation found that Holly had lost the locker room and created a toxic atmosphere during this time, and players complained about this to team officials. It also said former NWSL president Amanda Duffy “recalled being ‘confused’ about how to handle Holly’s relationship with Pearce Rampone.”

However, details of this toxic environment were never shared with Racing Louisville, which hired Holly as head coach in 2020. A season later, in August 2021, Louisville fired Holly following allegations that he sexually assaulted and harassed defensive back Erin Simon.

The study highlights further areas with potential for improvement

Other recommendations from Wednesday’s joint investigation included establishing guidelines for NWSL teams regarding alcohol consumption at team events and appropriate locations for one-on-one meetings between staff and players.

The report also states that coaches and players should not be allowed to stay in the same team-provided accommodation.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NWSL Investigation: League to implement ‘non-fraternization’ policy