Published report of abuse in U.S. Women’s Soccer reflects a common systemic failure in society


Gaby Heberling, Staff Writer

Recently, the New York Times published a report detailing the systemic issue of abuse in women’s soccer. After a year long investigation, the published report reveals the sexual misconduct, verbal abuse, and emotional abuse players suffered at the hands of the coaches in the National Women’s Socccer League (NWSL). Likewise, the report reveals that the abuse stems from as early on as levels of youth soccer. 

The report comes an entire year after female players protested the NWSL’s persistent failure to take their complaints seriously. Many women feel pressured to stay silent to protect their security in the soccer profession. The system, which protects predatory coaches, allows for coaches to be passed from one team to another .This protection of predators, known as “passing the trash,” permits coaches to be moved freely from team to team at the top levels of women’s soccer. Not only does “passing the trash” protect soccer coaches, but such a practice is applicable to many institutional settings. Predatory teachers are often dismissed quietly and passed from school to school. This practice also occurs in the Catholic Church with predatory priests. Such policies allow for prominent institutions to protect their reputations by sweeping instances of abuse under the rug. 

When reports of abuse in the U.S. Women’s Soccer League came to light, many league executives resigned and were fired. Shockingly, the investigation revealed that half of the 10-team league coaches had been linked to allegations of abuse. Now, women are demanding systemic change –  requiring investigations into accusations of abuse, making clear policies and rules around acceptable behavior and conduct, and hiring player safety officers, among other requirements. Moreover, the report reveals that an appalling number of coaches and executives knew about the abuse, but did little to nothing to stop it. 

Sally Q. Yates, the lead investigator, stated, ““Abuse in the N.W.S.L. is rooted in a deeper culture in women’s soccer, beginning in youth leagues, that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players.” Yates’ findings reveal the need for systemic reform, as soccer players, even when young children, are being abused by supposed trusted adults in positions of authority. The report also noted that, “women players are conditioned to accept and respond to abusive coaching behaviors as youth players.” This culture is not only relevant in soccer but also exists in many ways throughout our society. Our culture still teaches girls ranging from children to adult women that abuse perpetrated by males is acceptable. Adult males in authority abuse their power dynamic over women, and institutions allow such atrocities to happen. Despite movements like the “Me Too” movement, our society still works to cover up instances of abuse and to protect male perpetrators. Often, society blames women who may have been compliant in the abuse, without acknowledging the power imbalance present. Many look at male abusers as the “victims”, when the female victims suffer life-lasting emotional consequences. While, slowly this narrative has begun to change, there is still so much work to do. The recent report detailing the abuse throughout women’s soccer reflects a similar scandal in the U.S. Gymnastics team, where more than 90 women accused former U.S. gymnastics doctor, Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. The scandal shocked the country as multiple perpetrators allowed practices of abuse to run rampant. Recently, the victims of Nassar’s abuse filed a lawsuit against the FBI for early investigative failures. 

In Nassar’s trial, many women revealed their heartbreaking stories and the struggles that have followed them throughout their life. Women are often left feeling depressed, anxious, and have suicidal thoughts following their experiences of abuse, especially when manipulation makes women feel as though they were compliant in the abuse. Likewise, when the justice system and institutions protect perpetrators, women are left feeling hopeless. Even in reporting abuse, women feel guilty as putting their abuser’s career on the line makes them feel responsible.

Scandals of this nature  impact individuals on a global and local scale. One girl, a junior at Radnor High School, stated,  “It is bad and irresponsible to not listen to repetitive claims about such a serious matter. It hurts less to look at [complaints], then to let the situation blow up later.” Another girl, also a junior at RHS, stated, “I find it interesting that any big athletic league will put profit over the actual concern of the players. Corporations will do anything to increase the amount of money that they make, including sweeping the abuse of women under the rug and out of view from the public because they are more concerned about how much they can make off the sport rather than the safety and concern of the players.” Another boy, a junior at RHS, stated, “It’s messed up.” The opinions of Radnor students reveal a collective frustration with the system and institutions actions. 

The USA Women’s Gymnastics scandal and the U.S. Women’s Soccer Report reveals many disgusting parallel similarities – the same narrative in which men in positions of power are permitted to abuse children and women at the expense of protecting such institutions’ reputations. Unfortunately, these are only a minority of the stories heard or reported, and the extent of abuse in the world is largely untold. In the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics scandal, McKayla Maroney revealed how Nassar began abusing her when she was only 13 years old. Maroney wrote in a tweet, “People should know that this is not just happening in Hollywood. This is happening everywhere.” Maloney’s statement portrays the blind eye society turns to the all too common occurrence of abuse towards women. Society is supposed to protect victims, and children, not endanger them. Yet, the very same people who women are supposed to entrust are the ones threatening them. Maroney also stated, “Wherever there is a position of power, there seems to be potential for abuse.” While the constant reports women make of abuse have left a sense of hopelessness, there is also inspiration and hope for change. The more women that publicly share their stories, the more other women have comfort in knowing they’re not alone. Silence has let abuse thrive, but women are no longer keeping quiet. 

Now, more than ever, women are taking a stand against society. On twitter, famous athletes like soccer player Alex Morgan have posted about the findings of abuse throughout women’s soccer. Likewise, many gymnasts in the U.S gymnastics scandal used their voices to testify against doctor Larry Nassar to echo the pain and suffering he caused so many women from stealing their innocence. Speaking out is incredibly healing to many survivors and victims, and hearing other women’s stories makes so many other women feel strong and unified, knowing they’re not alone. There should never have been tolerance for inappropriate behavior, and now women are pushing and fighting for change. It is never acceptable for those in charge to normalize abuse, whether sexual, physical, or emotional,by people who women are supposed to trust. There needs to be more training about boundaries, more consequences for inappropriate behavior, and a change in priorities to protect women, the victims of abuse, not the perpetrators or institutions.