Less than 24 hours after a scathing report detailing abuse in women’s soccer was released, U.S. women’s national soccer team captain Becky Sauerbrunn answered the question she knew was coming.
“The players are not doing well,” she said from London ahead of Friday’s USWNT-England game at Wembley.
The U.S. Soccer-commissioned report, which was conducted by former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Q. Yates and the law firm King & Spalding, found that emotional abuse and sexual misconduct are systemic in women’s soccer.
“We are horrified and heartbroken and frustrated and exhausted and really, really angry,” Sauerbrunn continued. “We are angry that it took a third-party investigation. We are angry that it took an article in the Athletic and the Washington Post and numerous others.
“We’re angry that it took over 200 people sharing their trauma to get to this point, right now. And we’re angry that it took Mana (Shim) and Sinead (Farrelly) and Erin (Simon) and Kaiya (McCullough) and Alex (Morgan) and Christen (Press) and Sam (Johnson) to repeatedly ask people in authority to take their abuse and their concerns seriously.”
Sauerbrunn went on to say she believes “every owner and executive and U.S. Soccer official who has repeatedly failed the players, and failed to protect the players, and have not participated fully in these investigations should be gone.”
Sauerbrunn, who plays in the NWSL for the Portland Thorns, was later asked to confirm that that includes Thorns/Timbers CEO and owner Merritt Paulson.
“It includes everyone that has continued to fail the players time and time again,” she said.
Yates report takeaways extend beyond NWSL: ‘Guardrails’ are essential for women’s pro sports
The Yates report detailed how Paulson failed to take action and continued to support former Thorns head coach Paul Riley after Riley was accused of harassment and sexual coercion. Portland’s President of Soccer, Gavin Wilkinson, accused the player who raised the complaint of “putting Riley in a bad position” and said that he would “hire (Riley) in a heartbeat,” while President of Business Mike Golub has been accused of creating a disrespectful work environment that was especially toxic for women and working mothers.
Even current U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone experienced this environment. She told investigators that in 2013, while serving as Portland Thorns coach, Golub asked her, “What’s on your bucket list besides sleeping with me?”
The Yates report also notes that the Thorns were uncooperative with their investigation, despite making public statements to the contrary.
“The Portland Thorns interfered with our access to relevant witnesses and raised specious legal arguments in an attempt to impede our use of relevant documents,” the report says.
In addition to the U.S. Soccer-commissioned Yates report, a joint investigation from the NWSL and NWSL Players Association will be released later this year.
Shortly before Sauerbrunn began speaking, Paulson issued a statement saying that, effective today, he is removing himself from all Thorns-related decision making until the NWSL/NWSLPA joint investigation is published, and that Wilkinson and Golub will do the same.
That said, Paulson’s statement included no indication that he plans to sell the team or remove himself from the Portland Timbers operations.
USWNT defender Alana Cook, who joined Sauerbrunn for Tuesday’s media session, expressed her disappointment that so much of this has fallen to the players.
“It shouldn’t be on us any longer,” Cook said. “We deserve an environment where we get to go out and play and enjoy doing what we do. And we deserve to be in an environment that’s safe and protects that joy.”