Kathy Castor: U.S. Soccer Needs to Act on Allegations About Abuse, Sexual Misconduct in Women’s Soccer

A congresswoman from the Sunshine State offered her thoughts on U.S. Soccer’s report on allegations about abusive behavior and sexual misconduct in women’s professional soccer.

Last week, U.S. Soccer released the full findings and recommendations of Sally Yates’ independent investigation into the allegations.

U.S. Soccer’s Board of Directors and leadership team vowed to immediately work to implement recommendations contained in the report, working in collaboration with U.S. Soccer members and organizations at all levels of the game to determine a plan for implementing the recommendations that require further coordination.

“This investigation’s findings are heartbreaking and deeply troubling,” said U.S. Soccer President and former U.S. Women’s National Team member Cindy Parlow Cone. “The abuse described is inexcusable and has no place on any playing field, in any training facility or workplace. As the national governing body for our sport, U.S. Soccer is fully committed to doing everything in its power to ensure that all players – at all levels – have a safe and respectful place to learn, grow and compete. We are taking the immediate action that we can today, and will convene leaders in soccer at all levels across the country to collaborate on the recommendations so we can create meaningful, long-lasting change throughout the soccer ecosystem.”

U.S. Soccer retained Yates and King & Spalding in October 2021 to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of abuse and misconduct in women’s professional soccer to gain a full understanding of the factors that allowed the abusive behavior and sexual misconduct to occur and to identify meaningful recommendations that will help prevent similar abuse and misconduct from taking place in the future. Yates and her team were given full autonomy, access and the necessary resources to follow the facts and evidence wherever they led.

When Yates and her team were retained, U.S. Soccer publicly committed to transparently sharing the results of the investigation when it concluded. After receiving a thorough report from King & Spalding upon the investigation’s conclusion, the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors voted to release the report in full, with appropriate steps taken to preserve victim privacy and confidentiality.

“I am grateful to Sally Yates and her team for their dedicated work, and to everyone who participated openly and honestly in the investigation, especially the players who courageously came forward publicly to share their experiences and set in motion the process of identifying the facts and driving necessary and immediate change,” said Cone. “U.S. Soccer and the entire soccer community have to do better, and I have faith that we can use this report and its recommendations as a critical turning point for every organization tasked with ensuring player safety. We have significant work to do, and we’re committed to doing that work and leading change across the entire soccer community.”

U.S. Soccer insisted it is committed to thoroughly addressing the report’s recommendations. In the most immediate term, U.S. Soccer will:

Establish a new Office of Participant Safety to oversee U.S. Soccer’s conduct policies and reporting mechanisms;

Publish soccer records from SafeSport’s Centralized Disciplinary Database to publicly identify individuals in our sport who have been disciplined, suspended or banned; and

Mandate a uniform minimum standard for background checks for all U.S. Soccer members at every level of the game, including youth soccer, to comport with the USOPC standards.

In addition to those most immediate steps, U.S. Soccer has created a new committee of the Board of Directors to comprehensively address the report’s recommendations going forward. The committee will be chaired by former U.S. Women’s National Team player Danielle Slaton alongside Vice Chair US Club Soccer CEO Mike Cullina and will consist of Lori Lindsey, Richard Groff, Pete Zopfi and Lisa Carnoy, and will work with the leadership team to determine an appropriate plan to act upon the recommendations laid out in the report as quickly and effectively as possible. This committee will thoroughly study the report’s recommendations and their potential implementation over the next few months. On or before Jan. 31, 2023, the group will share an action plan with U.S. Soccer membership and the public outlining next steps for implementation of the report’s remaining recommendations.

U.S. Soccer also announced the creation of a new player-driven Participant Safety Taskforce to convene leaders in soccer at all levels across the country – from professional leagues to youth and grassroots clubs – to coordinate efforts to implement the report’s recommendations and to ensure increased clarity on conduct-related policies and procedures. The successful implementation of several of the report’s recommendations will require collaboration and coordination between U.S. Soccer, its membership and other key stakeholders with parallel or overlapping missions and responsibilities. U.S. Soccer calls upon its membership to join in these efforts and prioritize making needed changes.

At least one-third of the new Participant Safety Taskforce’s membership will be made up of athlete representatives. The Taskforce’s development will be led by new U.S. Soccer CEO JT Batson and the group will release more information about its mission, membership roster and timeline for progress within the next 30 days.

Since 2020, U.S. Soccer has an entirely new senior leadership team, including in the roles of President, CEO, Chief Commercial Officer, Chief Legal Officer and Chief People & Diversity Officer. Since that time, U.S. Soccer has taken several steps – many of which were implemented before the independent investigation began – to strengthen protections for players, including:

Hiring a SafeSport Coordinator to oversee athlete safety and SafeSport compliance (2020) and hiring an additional full-time SafeSport Coordinator (2022);

Implementing a new online incident reporting and case management system (2020);

Offering anonymous text message reporting to all U.S. Soccer employees and national team program participants (2022);

Launching a publicly available tool to verify coaching and referee licenses (2022);

Creating a taskforce to explore a recommended universal standard for background screening in U.S. Soccer’s membership (2021);

Using the U.S. Soccer Learning Center to automate tracking of Safe

Castor, one of the co-chairs of the Congressional Soccer Caucus, weighed in on the report last week.

“The U.S. Soccer Federation’s independent report on the investigation into allegations of abusive behavior and sexual misconduct in women’s professional soccer yielded disturbing results, which highlight the deep systemic abuse that runs through every level of women’s sports across the nation,” Castor said. “I urge the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors and leadership team to honor their commitment to do everything in their power to ensure that all players have a safe and respectful place to learn, grow and compete as they implement the recommendations from the report. I also encourage all coaches, leaders, and all of those involved, at all levels of the game, to continue to stand up for women across the sport, especially in youth leagues.

“Abuse in sports should never be normalized, I stand with, believe in, and support the women who suffered abuse through their career. I look forward to seeing U.S. Soccer’s action plan in the upcoming year and expect that those who deserve it receive the disciplinary action needed to create lasting and significant change throughout the sport,” Castor said.

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