Executive committee to manage NWSL, oversee systematic transformation

Following the dismissal of two front-office leaders, the National Women’s Soccer League announced an executive committee will oversee operations and lead a commitment to systemic transformation.

The committee includes Amanda Duffy (Orlando Pride), Angie Long (Kansas City NWSL), and Sophie Sauvage (OL Reign). A global search for a permanent commissioner is underway. 

The moves comes after the removal of Lisa Baird as NWSL commissioner and Lisa Levine as general counsel, following allegations that the league has not done enough to address accusations of sexual coercion and abuse from former Portland Thorns and North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley.

“On behalf of the entire league, we are heartbroken for what far too many players have had to endure in order to simply play the game they love, and we are so incredibly sorry,” said the three executive committee members in a press statement. “We understand that we must undertake a significant systemic and cultural transformation to address the issues required to become the type of league that NWSL players and their fans deserve and regain the trust of both. We’re committed to doing just that and recognize that this won’t happen overnight, but only through vigilance over time.”

The league is immediately launching several critical investigative and reform initiatives to protect players and staff, and the environments in which athletes live, train, and compete to give athletes the agency and ability to safely report misconduct of any form.

The National Women’s Soccer League has retained Covington & Burling to oversee these investigations and make recommendations for reforms.  Amanda Kramer, former Assistant United States Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, will lead the firm’s team and will report directly to the NWSL board’s newly-formed executive committee (described above).

Those initiatives include:

  • An independent review of practices and policies at the league and club levels — including workplace policies for each club in the league, league-mandated anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy, and processes for identifying, investigating, and enforcing violations of those policies — to identify and reform deficiencies.  The league will work with the players association to ensure that the results of these team and league reviews will serve as a road map to ensure safe environments for players and staff.
  • Comprehensive policies and procedures created for the league and all member clubs to ensure moving forward that there is a systematic, transparent, and effective execution of any harassment or workplace conduct issues.
  • A reopening of the 2015 investigation regarding former NWSL coach Paul Riley, including a review of the circumstances surrounding his departure from the Portland Thorns FC, and his subsequent hiring by Western New York Flash and the North Carolina Courage. 
  • A review of the available investigative reports related to all historical complaints of discrimination, harassment, or abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual) in the NWSL, and where necessary, a reopening of the respective investigation, or the initiation of a new adjudication process. 
  • The continuation of ongoing investigations initiated under the NWSL’s current anti-harassment policy, and the recommendation of sanctions where appropriate.commitment to systemic transformation

It has been a tumultuous year for the NWSL: managers Richie Burke (Washington Spirit), Christy Holly (Racing Louisville) and Farid Benstiti (OL Reign) all resigned or were terminated this season, many after allegations of abuse. Burke, for example, was terminated by the Spirit after allegations of abuse, while the league sanctioned the Spirit for not acting quicker on the charges.

This is not an issue that will go away: FIFA and the U.S. Soccer Federation are launching their own investigations.

Now in its ninth year, NWSL had reached a point where it had negotiated national contracts and was expanding from eight to 10 teams in 2022.

RELATED STORIES: Baird steps down as NWSL commissioner after Riley abuse allegations

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