USWNT Captain Becky Sauerbrunn wants executives who enabled abuse “gone”
A shocked Becky Sauerbrunn, the often stoic US women’s national team captain, said a day after a detailed report commissioned by US Soccer that she and her teammates were “appalled and heartbroken and frustrated and exhausted and really, really angry.” “. Systemic abuse in women’s football.
The report, released Monday after a year-long investigation led by former federal prosecutor Sally Yates, detailed new allegations of verbal, emotional and sexual misconduct at the highest level in the sport and found that coaches, executives, team owners of the National Women’s Soccer League and the USA Countless players failed the football officials.
Sauerbrunn said Tuesday she wanted those enablers “gone.”
She and her US team-mates are in London this week ahead of a sell-out match against England at Wembley Stadium, billed as a symbol of progress. It should be a “meaningful event,” said defense attorney Alana Cook. With three days to go before the game, “it’s tarnished by this report,” Cook said, “and it’s tarnished by the atrocities that have been condoned and tolerated and condoned in the NWSL for the last 10 years.”
And the players are “not doing well,” said Sauerbrunn. Head coach Vlatko Andonovski said he gave them time and space “to think, process and basically do whatever it takes to get through this difficult time” – even if that means they have a meeting, a Miss a training session or Friday game.
“We are angry that it has required a third party investigation,” an emotional sourbrunn said via Zoom. “We are angry that it took an article in The Athletic and The Washington Post and numerous others. We are angry that it has taken over 200 people to share their trauma to get to this point now. And we’re mad that it took mana [Shim] and Sinead [Farrelly] and erin [Simon] and Kaiya [McCullough] and Alex [Morgan] and Christians [Press] and Sam [Johnson] Constantly asking authority figures to take their abuse and concerns seriously.
“And I think the players have been asking for changes for so long,” Sauerbrunn said in an opening statement. “And that’s because the 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. What and who are you actually protecting? And what values do you hold dear?
“You have failed in your responsibility. And in my opinion, every owner and manager and U.S. football official who has repeatedly failed players and failed to protect players, who has hidden behind laws and who has not fully participated in these investigations, should be gone.”
Sauerbrunn calls for the dismissal of executives and owners
Sauerbrunn plays for the Portland Thorns, whose owner Merritt Paulson and then-general manager Gavin Wilkinson played a key role in covering up sexual harassment allegations against then-head coach Paul Riley in 2015, allowing Riley to continue coaching in the league for six more years Years. Just before Sauerbrunn spoke, Paulson announced that he would be removing himself, Wilkinson and President of Operations Mike Golub from all Thorns-related decisions pending a separate investigation on behalf of the NWSL and its players’ association. He didn’t say he would sell the team.
Sauerbrunn did not call for Paulson’s ouster by name, but when asked specifically about Paulson and Portland executives, reiterated that her statement applies to “anyone who has failed the players time and time again, who has not taken concerns seriously, who did not correctly disclose information who did not participate in investigations. All.”
The actions of Paulson and Wilkinson fit this description. Both learned of the 2015 sexual harassment allegations directly from Riley’s accuser, Mana Shim, via email. They subsequently fired Riley, but publicly and privately referred to his departure as not renewing his contract. Wilkinson later told another NWSL club, the Western New York Flash, that he would rehire Riley, saying that Riley was “put in a bad position by the player”. When the Flash hired Riley, Paulson wrote to the team’s president to congratulate him, saying he had “a lot of affection for [Riley].”
According to Yates’ investigative team, the Thorns also “obstructed our access to relevant witnesses and advanced flimsy legal arguments to prevent our use of relevant documents.”
The investigation also found that former US soccer leaders, including then-President Sunil Gulati and then-CEO Dan Flynn, were aware of the 2015 allegations but took no meaningful action. It also emerged that Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler had known about the alleged abuse of head coach Rory Dames for years, but continued to employ Dames. In a statement Tuesday, Whisler apologized “for what our players experienced during their time in Chicago” and relinquished operational control of the team and its role on the NWSL’s board of directors. But, like Paulson, he didn’t say he would sell the team.
Neither US Soccer nor the Yates investigative team have the direct authority to remove an NWSL team owner. League Commissioner Jessica Berman and the other franchisees could do so, especially if the investigation jointly commissioned by the league and the NWSLPA recommends it.
When asked if she had faith in the league’s power brokers to heed her calls, Sauerbrunn said, “I don’t know. I don’t know if the right people are there to do what is needed The investigation that comes out will make recommendations for the discipline.”
“The passion for the game has been taken”
Sauerbrunn was repeatedly asked how she processed and reconciled playing in a league, for a club and for an association that made such abuse possible. In response, she spoke of joy.
“I think the players have lost their passion for the game for so long because they’ve been mistreated in this league,” she said. “And I think I’m fed up with letting that happen to me. I love the football game. I want to be passionate and I want to play.”
Cook added: “For so long it’s been up to the players to deal with these things and speak out. It shouldn’t be up to us anymore. We deserve an environment where we can go out and play and enjoy what we’re doing. And we deserve to be in an environment that is safe and protects that joy.”
And how will they muster the mental and emotional strength to face the European champions in three days?
“Some players, some staff need someone  to talk,” Andonovski said. “Some people need time, some people need space, some people need to process everything, and some people need distraction.”
US Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone said Monday that she had emailed players to update them on available resources. She and Cook said the NWSL took a similar approach. Health comes first. The message from the USWNT leadership, Cook confirmed, was, “Do what it takes to make yourself comfortable.”
But also, “As women, personally as a minority, this isn’t new,” said Cook, who is black. “These hostile conditions are now being dug up and exposed publicly, but they’re things we’ve dealt with throughout our careers. We’ve gotten to this point because we’ve learned to manage the difficulties that come with what we do and to overcome the difficulties in our lives and still be effective.”
Sauerbrunn agreed. “We’ve had a lot to deal with as footballers, not just in the last year or two, but for a very long time,” she said. “And unfortunately I would say you have to get used to it, and you have to manage the ups and downs, and you have to do your best, and you have to change as much as you can, but also demand more from those who have the power to do it to have.”
Sauerbrunn was also asked if she felt safe around the Thorns with Paulson still at the helm of the club.
She paused for seven seconds to think, then began, “I mean — how do you answer that?”
“All I know is that the team that I play with and the technical staff and the medical staff, these people are good people,” she continued. “But the things that happened above them in the front office as owners are despicable. And it can’t go on like this. And the fact that people have been abused because things weren’t done well and properly is inexcusable.
“And so it doesn’t matter if I feel safe. I don’t think anyone is 100% sure and that’s not good enough. Everyone should be 100% safe and free from abuse.”