NWSL: Protect the players

December 16, 2022
The NWSL and its Players Association (NWSLPA) published findings from its joint investigation on Wednesday, sharing that over half of the league’s 12 teams were negligent with respect to widespread misconduct and outlining the league’s necessary areas of improvement.
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SOURCE: MATTHEW ASHTON - AMA/GETTY IMAGES
SOURCE: MATTHEW ASHTON - AMA/GETTY IMAGES

Content warning: This section contains mention of verbal, emotional and sexual abuse.

The GIST: The NWSL is finally shedding light on its systemic culture of abuse. The league and its Players Association (NWSLPA) published findings from its joint investigation on Wednesday, sharing that over half of the league’s 12 teams were negligent with respect to widespread misconduct and outlining the league’s necessary areas of improvement.

The findings: The investigation confirmed previous reports of misconduct in Portland, Chicago and Louisville, while also uncovering a deeper league-wide culture of verbal abuse, including racism, homophobia and weight-shaming. New accounts of abusive patterns by several former coaches were unveiled as well.

  • The Kansas City Current face new scrutiny after ex–head coach Huw Williams retaliated against players for voicing tactical disagreements. Despite complaints lodged by athletes, Williams was shuffled into a front office role and quietly left the club only last month. Horrifying.

The response: Commissioner Jessica Berman said that building safe workplaces for players is key to all of the league’s growth goals, but partners will need to pitch in. “We have to make sure that we pay attention to and mind the environments that we’re providing for players to train and play,” she said. “That’s going to require investment.”

  • NWSLPA executive director Meghann Burke agreed, saying it will “take real dollars” to do so and realize the league’s full potential. “The players are the greatest asset we have, bar none,” she added. “[They’re] why people want to invest.”

Zooming out: Protecting players and building a healthy product is central to the NWSL’s business model, especially as the league enters an unprecedented period of cleaning house. Two complicit owners — Portland’s Merritt Paulson and Chicago’s Arnim Whisler — are selling, and two additional ownership groups will enter through expansion.

  • It seems that brands still believe in the NWSL. League-level sponsors like Ally stayed put after the Yates Report, hoping their investment will improve the league, and their brand affinity, in the process.
  • It’s also a longstanding women’s soccer theme — for example, sponsors publicly backed the USWNT’s equal pay battle and are now rewarding the U.S. Soccer Federation accordingly. Fairness can pay the bills.
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