Becky Sauerbrunn: Everyone who has failed players 'should be gone'

On Tuesday, members of the U.S. national team got down to work in London ahead of Friday's international match against England at sold-out Wembley Stadium.

Training at The Hive, home to the London Bees of the FA Women's Championship, was followed later in the day by the first media availability since the release of the Yates Report with findings and recommendations about systematic abuse in the NWSL.

U.S. captain Becky Sauerbrunn began by thanking the players who were named in the report and those who remained anonymous for sharing their stories about "what quite possibly could be the worst moments of their careers and very easily their lives."

She also wanted to get ahead of any questions about how she and her teammates were doing.

"The players are not doing well," she admitted. "We are horrified and heartbroken and frustrated and exhausted and really, really angry. We are angry that it took a third-party investigation. We are angry that it took an article in The Athletic, in 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."

Sauerbrunn said the players were angry that it took Mana Shim, Sinead Farrelly, Erin Simon, Kaiya McCullough, Alex Morgan, Christen Press and Samantha Johnson to repeatedly ask people in authority to take the abuse and their concerns seriously:

"For so long, this has always fallen on the player to demand change. And that is because the people in authority and decision-making positions have repeatedly failed to protect us, and they have failed to hold themselves and each other accountable. Who are you actually protecting? And what values are you upholding? You have failed in your stewardship. And it's my opinion that every owner and executive and U.S. soccer official who has repeatedly failed the players and failed to protect the players and have hidden behind legalities and have not participated fully in these of investigations should be gone. And at the bare minimum, the recommendations that are in the Yates Report should be immediately implemented by U.S. Soccer and by the league."

Asked who should make sure these owners and executives are "gone," she said a lot of people can apply pressure and she was already beginning to see it applied, but she added, "I think it's time for those that are in authority in leadership positions to start holding each other accountable and asking for the change that needs to happen in order for players to feel safe in this league."

Sauerbrunn, who admitted she does not know if she has faith that those new in power can and will do what is necessary to issue punishment, has played in the NWSL since its launch in 2013 and is one of only three players who have played in every NWSL season and in the three seasons of WPS before that. She played in the NWSL for FC Kansas City and the Utah Royals, which both folded, and signed a new contract last week to return for a fourth season in 2023 with the Portland Thorns.

The Thorns are at the center of the Yates Report. Allegations of misconduct and sexual coercion made by Shim and Farrelly against Paul Riley when they played for him in Portland in 2014 and 2015 were published in The Athletic on Sept. 30, 2021, and prompted U.S. Soccer's move to retain Sally Yates and King & Spalding to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of abuse.

The Thorns investigated Riley in 2015 and did not retain him after the season, terminating him for cause, but Yates found that the Thorns (along with U.S. Soccer and the NWSL) "failed to ensure that Riley's conduct was accurately disclosed to Western New York or North Carolina Courage," at which he was later hired.

The Yates Report included an email from Thorns owner and chief executive officer Merritt Paulson to Flash president Alex Sahlen that offered "congrats" for hiring Riley and added, "I have a lot of affection for him." According to the report, Courage owner Steve Malik said Paulson told him "Riley was essentially cleared even though what he did was not smart and exhibited bad judgment" when the Courage looked into hiring Riley in 2017 and wanted to know about an incident it had learned about Riley having two players at his apartment, where they kissed. (Paulson said he did not recall the conversation with Malik.)

On Tuesday, Paulson issued a statement that he was removing himself from all Thorns-related decision-making -- he also owns MLS's Timbers -- until the NWSL-NWSLPA joint investigation is released and that longtime Portland executives Gavin Wilkinson and Mike Golub would do the same. Chicago Red Stars chairman Arnim Whisler said he was removing himself from a governance role within the NWSL board of governors and was handing over operational control of the Red Stars to their executive team.

Sauerbrunn was asked if she included Paulson, Wilkinson, Golub and Whisler in those who needed to be "gone."

"It includes," she responded, "everyone that has continued to fail the players time and time again, who didn't take concerns seriously, who didn't pass on information correctly, who have not participated in investigations. All of them."

Was stepping away from decision-making for the time being good enough or should the Thorns be sold?

"I think that a lot of trust has been broken," Sauerbrunn said. "I don't know what's going to change. I don't know if anything is going to come out in this other [NWSL-NWSLPA] report that's going to make any sort of difference. And so at the end of the day, if people continue to fail the players and they don't comply with anything that gets asked of them or gets implemented because of these reports, then they need to be gone. Gone."

Did she still feel comfortable playing for Paulson?

"How do you answer that? All I know is that the team that I play with, the staff, the technical staff and the medical staff, those people are good people, but the things that have happened above them in the front office, as owners, are abhorrent and it cannot continue. And the fact that people were abused because things weren't done well and right is inexcusable, so it doesn't matter if I feel safe, I don't think anyone's 100 percent safe, and that's not good enough. Everyone should be a 100 percent safe and free of abuse."

Photo: Brad Smith/ISI Photos

8 comments about "Becky Sauerbrunn: Everyone who has failed players 'should be gone'".
  1. Wallace Wade, October 5, 2022 at 9:39 a.m.

    Good luck. I predict a couple of Fall Guys, but those in power will never agree to depart. Nothing EVER changes

  2. humble 1, October 5, 2022 at 10:33 a.m.

    This is a serious endeavor.  There will be consequences  for folks named.  There is a delicate balance to be maintained for the nacent women's league which will effect outcomes.  I am confident the folks that solved the lawsuit and set a fair and ground breaking collective agreement will do the same good work here.  This is not the last bit of cleanup from the dark years  USSF but it is the most important.  The ladies put their life work on the pitch.  They desrve nothing less.  

  3. humble 1 replied, October 5, 2022 at 10:35 a.m.

    The human element here is actually much
    larger than the lawsuit or CBA.  Make it right!

  4. cony konstin, October 5, 2022 at 11:08 a.m.

    Our mission as a teacher/coach is to fight for and protect Gods Babies. We are failing because we don't make kids the number one priority in the world. "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing". Edmund Burke 1790

  5. Jeanine Valadez, October 5, 2022 at 11:42 a.m.

    This situation is intolerable. Just ask yourself, would you want your kid (at any age) under the coercive, power-based influence of these bad actors?  Would you look away from this in trade for the bragging rights that your kid is a pro? Would you even sleep at night?  I doubt it. Every perpetrator, every accompliss must be gone. One doesn't deserve the privilege of owning, managing, administering, coaching, or otherwise working for a team if they, in any way, direct or indirect, were cognizant of these crimes and misdemeanors. I am thankful to Becky Sauerbraun for stepping up and speaking truth.

  6. Ben Myers, October 5, 2022 at 11:43 a.m.

    Similar player abuse propagates down to the youth level.  If not sexual indescreyions, then tyrant coaches making life miserable for their players. Will there be a similar cleanup of youth soccer?  Likely not.  Too dispersed.  And too many clubs raking in the bucks for supposedly training elite players. Mistreatment of people by those in power is endemic in American culture with the Weinsteins, Epsteins and their ilk. 

  7. Bob Ashpole, October 5, 2022 at 12:55 p.m.

    I have had a lot of experience with sorting people out. Punishments have to be considered on an individual basis. Everyone culpable may be fired, but group punishments are a bad idea unless intentionnally putting peer pressure on the group. But by definition "gone" people don't exert peer pressure. So there is no benefit gained her from judging them as a group.

  8. John DiFiore, October 5, 2022 at 2:21 p.m.

    Meanwhile, this is getting more attention to the league than the play itself.  Wasn't playing in the NWSL (or previous US W Leagues), considered the best place for women's football?  Is it anymore? 
    Are we cannibalizing the league? 
    Bad people do bad things -
    those in power, protect those bad people -
    victims eventually scream to press -
    press eventually picks up story -
    pressure is put on power people to rid bad people -
    some go, some stay-
    patrons get discouraged of immoral conduct, lose purchasing power interest - 
    revenue numbers decline - 
    ablitily to pay for top notch players decreases - 
    power people don't understand why their investment isn't making as much money as before, blame press and victims -

    This needs to be handled professionally at all levels and SWIFTLY.  The league needs to come out on top in order to get new investors to grow the league.

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