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NWSL announces corrective actions in response to joint investigative report

Penalties include individual punishments and club fines; Thorns fined $1 million.

San Diego Wave FC v NJ/NY Gotham FC Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images

The NWSL has announced penalties in the wake of the publishing of the findings of the joint NWSL-NWSL Player’s Association investigation, which were released last month.

“As previously disclosed, the Joint Investigative Team found that the failures across the league and U.S. Soccer were largely systemic in nature and made recommendations on several forward-looking and structural reforms to improve the league’s policies and practices,” the league shared in a statement released today.

The punishments handed out by the league range from individual bans, suspensions, and conditional returns for individuals named in the report. Additionally several clubs — including the Portland Thorns — were issued fines due to their roles in the misconduct outlined by the investigative report.

In a statement, NWSL commissioner stated “The league will continue to prioritize implementing and enhancing the policies, programs and systems that put the health and safety of our players first. Those actions are fundamental to the future of our league, especially as we build a league that strengthens our players’ ability to succeed and prosper on and off the pitch.”

She goes on to justify the listed out corrective actions as appropriate and necessary due to the findings of the report, stating, “As part of our commitment to accountability and deterrence, the league has determined that further corrective action with respect to certain organizations and individuals identified in the Joint Investigative Report is appropriate and necessary.”

Specifically related to the Portland Thorns organization, former head coach Paul Riley has been permanently excluded from the NWSL. Riley was head coach for the Thorns from 2014 - 2015, and his actions of alleged sexual misconduct and emotional abuse during his time as head coach of the Thorns were outlined in both the joint investigation report and the U.S. Soccer Federation investigation’s findings released last year.

Other coaches whose misconduct was detailed in the report — Christy Holly, Rory Dames and Richie Burke — were also permanently banned from the NWSL.

The Thorns were also levied a $1 million dollar fine. The release of corrective actions explains that this fine was previously announced as a pledge by outgoing Thorns owner Merritt Paulson to contribute towards the creation of an NWSL Player Safety office. Paulson announced last month that he is selling the team, and the league announced that they “will work collaboratively with him to ensure that the club is transferred in an expeditious and appropriate manner.”

In his statement announcing his intention to sell, Paulson shared his $1 million pledge. At the time it was not announced as a penalty from the league.

Additional clubs were assessed fines, with the Chicago Red Stars being fined $1.5 million. Racing Louisville, the North Carolina Courage, OL Reign, and Gotham FC were all also being levied financial punishments of lower amounts.

Commissioner Berman closed the release of corrective actions by stating, “The league and its clubs have taken meaningful steps to begin this structural reform, and understand and accept the continual commitment to enhancing league standards that are necessary to build a safe and positive environment for our players, staff, fans and partners. The Board of Governors hired me with the very specific mandate to effectuate this transformation.”

She goes on to outline that, “These changes will require leadership, accountability, funding and a willingness to embrace this new way of conducting business. Our league and clubs are committed to making these changes and will do so with continued input from the NWSL Players Association to make the NWSL a league that sets the standard for the future of sports.”

“I look forward to sharing more about our progress on our efforts ahead of our 2023 season,” Berman concludes.

You can read the full report on the league’s corrective actions here. And you can read the full text of the joint investigative report’s findings here.