The Chicago Red Stars chairman has been removed as pressure mounts on all abusers in the NWSL
The Chicago Red Stars board voted on Wednesday to sack club owner and founder Arnim Whisler as its chairman, two days after an investigative report commissioned by US Soccer detailed Whisler’s cover-up and facilitation of the alleged abuse of head coach Rory Dames.
The club announced Whisler’s dismissal in a statement on behalf of the board. It said the board would “immediately transfer him from his board seat with the Chicago Red Stars” and “codify his removal from any further participation in club or board operations.”
Whisler announced on Tuesday that he was stepping down from the National Women’s Soccer League board of directors and “handing over operational control of the club to our leadership team in Chicago.”
Neither he nor Wednesday’s board statement said he would sell or strip his majority stake in the club. But a Red Stars spokesman said Wednesday Evening that the board “wants to help facilitate a sale of Arnim’s shares in a timely process that is both prudent and, when completed, will move Red Stars players, coaches and front office staff into a better one future can lead”.
The board announced its Wednesday morning vote shortly thereafter Chicago Local 134an independent Red Star support group, released a statement He called Whisler “unable to continue in his current role as majority owner of the Chicago Red Stars organization” and said they would boycott “games, merchandise purchases and other Red Stars events” until Whisler divests himself.
“We find the reported details of Whisler’s conduct, in particular his dismissal of player complaints about the behavior of former general manager/head coach Rory Dames, to be totally unacceptable and irretrievably damaging not only to the players but to the club as a whole,” the fans wrote.
They also said that the “details in the account of Whisler directly contradict what he has told us as a group regarding knowledge of the abuse of Dames”.
“Arnim Whisler knew it”
The report, which emerged from a year-long investigation led by former federal prosecutor Sally Yates, uncovered new allegations of verbal, emotional and sexual misconduct at the highest levels of women’s soccer, revealing that coaches, executives, US soccer officials and owners of NWSL teams – including Whisler – “failed” countless players.
It primarily focused on three coaches, one of whom was Dames, who managed the Red Stars from 2011 to November 2021, when he resigned as The Washington Post prepared to expose his alleged abuse.
The Yates Report noted that Whisler initially hired Dames at his Chicago-area youth club, Eclipse Select, without a background check and despite a history of “tirades against the young girls who played for him.” Former players told the investigative team he called them vulgar and demeaning epithets.
“Separately, former Eclipse players have informed us that Dames’ sexualized team environment — in which he spoke to players about foreplay, oral sex, and their sex lives — has crossed the line into sexual relationships on multiple occasions, though those relationships may only come after age.” have begun consenting,” investigators wrote.
Whisler denied being aware of these allegations. But a few years into Dame’s tenure with the Red Stars, forward Christen Press told US Soccer’s leadership that Dames had “created a hostile environment,” verbally and emotionally abused players, made sexist and racist remarks toward players, and retaliated against the press and grabbed other players after they spoke, according to the Yates report. Press, who played for both the Red Stars and the US national team, had complaints forwarded to Whisler. Whisler responded by accusing national team players of wanting “this league to shut down” and having “an ax to sharpen” with Dames, according to Yates’ investigation.
Dames even offered to resign amid the complaints, Yates wrote, but Whisler “refused to accept his resignation.”
In 2018, after another round of similar player complaints, US Soccer hired an outside attorney to investigate Dames, and the “resulting report substantiated many of the players’ core complaints,” Yates wrote. But when Whisler was briefed on the investigation, he accused one of the players of “trying to take out Rory.”
Whisler continued to employ Dames despite repeated reports of abuse. One player told investigators that she had raised concerns about dames with Whisler for several years, but the owner would ask each year, “Was [Dames] a little bit better this year?” Over time, the player said she realized “it was a lost cause”.
Shortly before Dames’ eventual downfall, the Red Stars hired a psychologist to interview players anonymously about the team environment. The review concluded that Dames created “a culture of fear” and emotionally and verbally abused players and staff, Yates found. Players described him as “condescending” and “manipulative”.
Whisler conceded to investigators that those 2021 complaints, which he admitted were evidence of a “pervasive problem,” matched those from three and seven years earlier.
When Red Stars fans asked him to sell the club on Wednesday, they captioned their statement: “ARNIM WHISLER KNEW”.
The pressure on other NWSL owners, executives is growing
The Red Stars are one of four clubs whose owners or executives were implicated in the Yates report as potential abuse enablers.
In Portland on Wednesday, the Thorns fired Football President Gavin Wilkinson and Business President Mike Golub. Merritt Paulson – who along with Wilkinson helped hide allegations of sexual harassment against then-head coach Paul Riley in 2015 – said Tuesday that he is staying away from everyone pending a separate investigation to be commissioned by the NWSL and its players Decisions related to Thorns going to withdraw club is complete.
But Paulson remains the Thorns’ owner and still runs their sibling club, Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers. A coalition of the teams’ support groups said in a statement on the two layoffs that they “will continue to call for the sale of both teams.”
Sponsors are also putting pressure on. “We will only consider future sponsorships if the organization makes meaningful institutional changes,” Tillamook announced this on Wednesday evening. Alaska Airlines and Laurelwood Brewing Co. also said they would reevaluate future sponsorships.
In Louisville, where Christy Holly was hired in 2021 despite a history of alleged abuse and fired the same year after allegedly sexually abusing a player, fans of Racing Louisville’s brother club unveiled three banners at Wednesday’s game, commemorating Holly and club president James O. aimed “Connor.
“HOLLY ARRESTED JOC OUT YOU KNEW,” read the banners.
Racing Louisville players said that they reported various instances of abuse to club supervisors during the 2021 season, but the club did not act until Erin Simon came forward and reported Holly’s alleged sexual abuse of her. The club then did not publicly disclose the reason for Holly’s sacking, instead signing “mutual non-disclosure and non-libel agreements” that had previously kept the allegations hidden from the public.
After unveiling their banners, The Coopers, a Louisville football fan group, a expression which read in part: “People in power who failed to shine a light and allowed him to walk in a way that allowed him to continue abusing people should be fired immediately.”
In North Carolina, where Steve Malik hired Riley and retained him despite some knowledge of the 2015 allegations against Riley, the NC Courage released an unattributed statement on Wednesday night, in which the club said, in part, “We recognize our responsibilities, our ongoing commitments review organization and our role within the systemic issues of our sport.”
Former player Heather O’Reilly respondedprobably euphemistically: “Need a little more boys here.”
Several players have called for more consequences and displacements. “People in positions of authority and decision-making have repeatedly failed to protect us and they have failed to hold themselves and each other accountable,” USWNT and Thorns captain Becky Sauerbrunn said Tuesday. “What and who are you actually protecting? And what values do you uphold? You have failed in your leadership.
“And I believe,” Sauerbrunn concluded, “that every owner, manager and US football official who has repeatedly failed players and failed to protect players is hiding behind the law and not fully complying with it investigation has involved, this should be gone.”