Alex Morgan. Photo by Chris Stone
Alex Morgan, recovering from injury, is uncertain to play in the San Diego Wave’s first playoff game Sunday. Photo by Chris Stone

Calling details of a recent report on abuse against female soccer players “devastating,” San Diego Wave star Alex Morgan said commitments for improvements have been promised.

“It’s a little overwhelming — the information that was in the report — but also I just feel for every NWSL player, current or former, that has either have been victim of this misconduct, abuse or harassment, or has been on a team where they have seen this occur,” she told a press conference Friday ahead of the team’s first playoff game Sunday.

The report, released 11 days ago, revealed a league in which “abuse and misconduct — verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct — had become systemic, spanning multiple teams, coaches and victims.”

More than 200 interviews were conducted for the report by former U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates, including current and former players, coaches, owners and front office staff.

The report found a pattern of sexually charged comments, unwanted sexual advances and sexual touching, and coercive sexual intercourse in addition to verbal abuse.

Morgan said Friday that players are trying to emotionally process details of the report on abuse at the professional and youth levels.

“We’re trying to all heal while at the same time look at postseason, and this playoff game, and it’s a lot to digest in a short period of time, but I think players are doing their best to do that,” Morgan said.

Team records show that at least seven Wave players previously played for teams where the accused have coached.

“There’s really no way to sugarcoat things,” Morgan said at a press conference. “It’s kind of been really tough. She added that the report has created a lot of conversation within the organization.

Morgan, a longtime advocate of players rights and equal pay, said discussions have taken play with the San Diego club to put safety protocols into effect.

Player safety needs to be a top priority, she said, adding, “Now we’re looking at, you know, who was directly involved in this behavior and making sure that those are held accountable including the owners that really tried to brush a lot of this abuse and harassment under the rug.”

Jill Ellis, president of the Wave and former coach of the U.S. women’s national team, was mentioned in the report as a person who had been informed of abuse accusations in past years.

Some people on social media have called for Ellis to step down. Ellis was not mentioned at Friday’s press conference.

Stoney also commented on the 173-page abuse report.

“It’s been a difficult couple of weeks; I won’t shy away from that,” she said. “We have to acknowledge the history of the league and the experiences the players that have had, and especially some of these players in this environment.”

Stoney said she is confident that she and the staff have created a space that is safe and fun for the players.

Morgan’s comments come two days before her club’s playoff match against No. 6 seed Chicago Red Stars in the quarterfinals Sunday at Snapdragon Stadium.

San Diego Wave FC has a chance to become the first expansion franchise to win the NWSL title in its inaugural campaign.

The match, set for a 7 p.m. kickoff, airs live on CBS Sports Network and internationally on the NWSL’s Twitch channel. 

After selling out Snapdragon on Sept. 17, with 32,000 fans, the club looks to pack the stadium again with tickets on sale now.

“Our first ever season to be in the playoffs is a huge achievement by the club and the players and the staff,” said Wave head coach Casey Stoney.

Stoney gave an update of player injuries. Abby Dahlkemper won’t be available and Morgan with a knee injury and forward Taylor Kornieck, with an ankle injury are questionable for Sunday’s match.

“Both of them have, you know, been seriously injured,” Stoney said, “so we’re still working day by day.”

In response to the Yates report, Chicago players and the club’s board of directors have called for the removal of Arnim Whisle, the majority owner of the Red Stars.
 
Also, the National Women’s Soccer League on Friday announced nominees for the 2022 NWSL Awards with Wave FC represented in five categories.

Forward Morgan and defender Naomi Girma are up for Most Valuable Player. Girma is also in the running for Defender of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Kailen Sheridan has been nominated for Goalkeeper of the Year and Stoney for Coach of the Year.

These award winners will be announced in the days surrounding the 2022 NWSL Championship, set to kick off at 5 p.m. Pacific Oct. 29 at Audi Field in Washington, D.C.

Players throughout the season have praised Stoney and her coaching style.

“I think it’s shocking that we even have to talk about protecting players and safety,” the coach said. “I care for them and value them no matter whether they play one minute, no minute or 90 minutes.”

Morgan said players are “really hopeful looking forward.”

At the same time, she recognizes that player abuse isn’t solely a soccer issue and players are in solidarity with other female athletes.

Findings in the report include:

  • From the league’s inception, teams, the NWSL and U.S. Soccer Federation failed to put in place basic measures for player safety.
  • Abuse in the NWSL was systemic. Teams, the league and the federation failed to adequately address reports and evidence of misconduct.
  • Abusive coaches moved from team to team, and even to USSF, because teams, the league and USSF failed to identify and inform others of coaches’ misconduct.
  • A culture of abuse, silence and fear of retaliation perpetuated the misconduct.
  • Players lacked job security and protection from retaliation, further chilling reports of misconduct.
  • Teams, the league, and USSF should supplement SafeSport’s efforts to keep players safe.
  • The failure of USSF, NWSL and certain teams to adequately respond to reports and evidence of misconduct put additional players at risk and created a toxic tone from the top.
  • Abuse in women’s professional leagues appears rooted in youth soccer.

Recommendations in the report:

  • Teams should be required to accurately disclose misconduct to the NWSL and USSF to ensure that abusive coaches do not move from team to team.
  • USSF should require meaningful vetting of coaches and, when necessary, use its licensing authority to hold wrongdoers accountable.
  • USSF should require the NWSL to conduct timely investigations into allegations of abuse, impose appropriate discipline, and immediately disseminate investigation outcomes.
  • USSF should adopt uniform and clear policies and codes of conduct that apply to all.
  • USSF should require the NWSL to conduct annual training for players and coaches on applicable policies governing verbal and emotional abuse, sexual misconduct, harassment and retaliation.
  • USSF, NWSL and teams should each designate an individual within their organizations as responsible for player safety.
  • USSF should strengthen player safety requirements in professional leagues.
  • USSF should require the NWSL to carry out a system to annually solicit and act on player feedback.
  • USSF should collaborate with its youth member organizations and other stakeholders to examine whether additional measures are necessary to protect youth players.
  • The NWSL should determine whether discipline is warranted in light of these findings and the findings of the NWSL/NWSLPA Joint Investigation.
  • Teams, the NWSL and USSF should not rely exclusively on SafeSport to keep players safe and should implement safety measures where necessary to protect players in the USSF landscape.
  • The federation should determine the most effective structural mechanism — whether through an existing board committee, special committee or task force — to evaluate and carry out recommendations, as well as to consider further reforms in support of player safety.



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Ellen Bullock