How the NWSL’s fear and culture of silence perpetuated sexual abuse | NWSL
When former Washington Spirit player Kaiya McCullough reported to the Washington Post about ex-coach Richie Burke’s abusive behavior, it had a ripple effect, shattering the culture of silence and secrecy that plagued the community. NWSL for years.
Sexual abuse allegations against former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley followed which rocked the NWSL, raising concerns about the league’s safety and transparency. Fans and supporters of women’s football wonder how misconduct went unnoticed to explode into one of the biggest scandals in American football history.
âIn DC, when Kaiya McCullough left the team last year, there were rumblings, but none of us felt it was as bad as it ended up being. ‘be,’ said Angie Kanellopulos, president of the Spirit Squadron, a supporter of the Washington Spirits. ‘club.
However, when Burke was first brought to Spirit as head coach by owner Steve Baldwin, Kanellopulos said there was talk of his emotionally abusive behavior with young players in Northern Virginia, but that he had been rejected.
âEverything we got out of the locker room was’ It’s okay. We love Richie. Everything is fine, âsays Kanellopulos.
Meanwhile, backstage, Burke was hurling insults at players, making racist jokes and “yelling at them inches from their faces”, leaving McCullough, a young black woman, in tears after practice, he said. she told the Washington Post.
âRacists and degrading nicknames emanated from the front office. My coach abused me emotionally, âMcCullough wrote in an October op-ed.
The Post reported that at least four players left the team due to Burke’s abusive behavior, but his actions were rejected, further perpetuating the culture of silence.
Courtney Levinsohn, former UC Berkeley MVP and former head coach of the New York Athletic Club women’s football teams, said she was saddened but not surprised when the news broke. The reality of systemic imbalances is why she founded Women in Soccer – because allegations such as those reported by Athletic and the Washington Post “have always been among the barriers to working in football.”
âWhat Paul Riley did was criminal, but when a small infraction goes unreported, you see how far it can go,â she says.
The players are the NWSL’s greatest asset and find themselves in a culture that leaves them feeling powerless. Levinsohn, who is also a sports psychologist, says women feel isolated in American football because there have already been two leagues that have failed. Players tend to internalize the message that they shouldn’t tip the boat or that they will sink the NWSL.
âNo one wants to be the one to mess things up. There is a team dynamic that occurs that is very unique in women’s football because the psychological game is to make us think it is fragile, when it is not, but we do. ‘have all felt it,’ says Levinsohn. “It’s part of Kool-Aid and for so long it’s been ‘I’ll take what I can get as long as I can keep playing.'”
Doug Reyes-Ceron, co-founder of the Rose Room Collective, a fan group led by minorities DC United and Washington Spirit, also recalls hearing “chatter” before Burke’s hiring, but “nothing else. of the “. And when Burke was fired from his head coaching position, the NWSL’s first official statement was that he had resigned due to “health concerns” – a move that frustrated fans, according to Reyes-Ceron.
“We have seen two leagues fall back and we don’t want to see another fall back because of the current power structure that is being created.”
The Rose Room Collective and Spirit Squadron have ceased their supporting activities and ask the NWSL to respond to all requests from the NWSL Players Association.
Currently Fifa, US Soccer and NWSL have launched their own investigations, but Riley maintains his innocence, writing in an email to Athletic: “I have never had sex with, nor done ‘sexual advances towards these players. ” Burke did not respond.
The bravery of McCullough, Meleana ‘Mana’ Shim and Sinead Farrelly is one example of what happens when players feel safe enough to speak out. It is unfortunate that they could not find safety in the NWSL. Now players from Washington Spirit, Spirit Squadron, and The Rose Room Collective demand that Baldwin sell the team and demand more transparency from the NWSL.
” He must go. Baldwin wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to own the team and keep these men who create a toxic environment, âsays Reyes-Ceron, who has a friendship with McCullough. “The players really prefer Michelle Kang to be the majority owner.”
There needs to be more diversity within the higher levels of the club, âsaid Mary Pruter, president of The Uproar, a North Carolina Courage fan club. She knew Portland didn’t like Paul Riley, but like so many others, she attributed her exit to the performance-based excuse given by the Portland Thorns. It wasn’t until the Athletic article citing Riley’s ongoing sexual abuse that Pruter discovered the truth.
âKeep giving all these people more and more chances, but look at the people who never had the chance,â she says. âThere is so much more work the league needs to do to rebuild trust with the players and the fans. I wish they had been more proactive and partnered with organizations that have a good track record.
And as calls for diversity in the NWSL grow louder, Levinsohn says it’s heartbreaking to know that when the sexual abuse was reported in Portland, former NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird, the swept under the carpet.
âWhat makes the story harder for me is that the women inside the league didn’t act,â Levinsohn said. âThere is a feeling of being really disappointed. I thought having a woman as commissioner would make things different.
Preparing girls to accept disrespect and abuse starts young, says Brianna Russell, CEO and founder of Girls Leading Girls, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that teaches leadership and advocacy through football . In youth football everyone is a journalist and there are mechanisms and systems in place for young people to speak out. But not all clubs intend to create a safe environment, Russell says.
âWe train the girls to be leaders of themselves, we teach them what their rights are and how to cultivate close relationships with several women in the organization,â said Bre. âWe need more women around who are not complicit. People shouldn’t be able to say I didn’t know anymore. If you didn’t know, you are incompetent.
But girls need to speak up, says Russell, and that comes from training girls to stand up for themselves from a young age. Girls are already dropping out of sport twice as fast as boys and with the abuse they will continue to drop out at a faster rate. There is no independent organization to protect them once they leave youth soccer, she says, and that’s a problem when the safest space they can find is a newspaper. .
âIt’s the fear of not being able to play and it’s a huge fear. These women want to be able to do what they love in life, âsays Russell. âIf there is no one monitoring the situation or the people monitoring the situation are the problem, then they are not going to speak out. “