Leagues and Governing Bodies

NWSL's interim CEO has near-term sights set on abuse cases

Multiple NWSL coaches have been fired or resigned in the last several months over sexual harassment allegationsGETTY IMAGES

The first item on NWSL interim CEO Marla Messing's agenda is "addressing recent abuse cases that have sent the league into a tailspin," according to Juliet Macur of the N.Y. TIMES. Messing said, "Our first objective is to get our house in order and to make sure that we are meeting the minimum standards of a professional league and addressing the issues that the players want and deserve us to address." She said that those changes "could take months" because "so much needs to be examined to understand how the league got to this low point." Former Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke last month was fired for "violating the league’s anti-harassment policy," while former OL Reign coach Farid Benstiti in July resigned amid "accusations of verbal abuse." The multiple abuse cases led to former NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird "stepping down," and the players' union "demanding immediate change to protect players." Among its demands, the union asked for a "mandatory suspension of anyone in a position of power who was being investigated for abuse, and transparency in the investigations." Messing yesterday started off her video call by announcing that the league "was now working with the union to address its concerns" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/21).

MORE DETAILS: Messing indicated that in addition to "finding agreement on the eight demands" of the NWSLPA, the league and union will "collaborate on a single investigation instead of two separate inquiries." Messing added that the investigation "could take as long as nine months to be completed." Messing said, "The league has retained (law firm) Covington & Burling to conduct a thorough independent investigation." She said that she "will act much like a commissioner would, including managing the league office and interacting with the board of governors." Messing "declined to state whether she would want the position full time, saying she preferred to focus on the issues at hand" (ESPN.com, 10/20).

TRYING TIMES: USWNT and Portland Thorns D Becky Sauerbrunn described the past several weeks, in which allegations of verbal abuse and sexual coercion have roiled the NWSL, as "heavy" and "really tough." Sauerbrunn indicated there had been "numerous conversations with various levels of the Portland front office." Sauerbrunn admitted that "such has been the perception of fragility surrounding the NWSL that there has long been an undercurrent of fear within the player ranks that if anyone stepped out of line, or did anything to cast the league in a poor light, the league might fold." ESPN.com's Jeff Carlisle writes now that "feeling has evaporated." Sauerbrunn, while not part of the NWSL Players Association because of her status as an allocated player, "lauded the work that the NWSLPA has done during the crisis, leading from the front and pushing for change" (ESPN.com, 10/20).

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