New National Women's Soccer League Commissioner Jessica Berman said Wednesday that while it's disappointing another league coach has been accused of misconduct, programs that were implemented in the wake of last season's league scandals have helped make sure players' concerns are addressed.
The Houston Dash suspended coach and general manager James Clarkson on Tuesday after the team received a report on a joint investigation by the league and its players’ association into alleged discrimination, harassment and abuse. Clarkson's future will be decided “based on the final results of an ongoing investigation,” the team said.
“This is the manifestation of the process that the league and the players’ association put in place which provided a pathway for individuals to bring forward issues and for those issues to be investigated and managed appropriately,” Berman said. “And so while we never like to have situations like this happen, the fact that the process worked the way it was intended to, and that all of the appropriate parties worked together on the interim solution and the next steps was really important and constructive overall for the progress that the league is making on this issue.”
Berman, who began her job April 20, said she could not address the specifics of the investigation since it is ongoing.
Clarkson is the longest-tenured coach in the NWSL. He was the only head coach still with his team who was coach at the start of last NWSL season. All the others have either voluntarily left the league for new opportunities, gone to other teams within the league, resigned or were dismissed because of alleged misconduct.
The Dash planned to name an interim coach before it opens the regular season at home against the expansion San Diego Wave on Sunday.
“As an organization, our highest priority is creating and maintaining a safe and respectful work environment for our players and staff, which we believe is critical to our success on the pitch,” the Dash said in a statement.
In 2021, five other coaches in the NWSL resigned or were fired due to abuse or harassment complaints, and Gotham FC fired its general manager.
The Washington Spirit fired coach Richie Burke in September after an investigation by the league into alleged violations of the NWSL’s antiharassment policy and North Carolina coach Paul Riley was fired later that month after The Athletic published the accounts of two former players who claimed misconduct, including sexual coercion. Riley denied the allegations.
Commissioner Lisa Baird resigned on Oct. 1 after about 19 months on the job, and the players’ association demanded a joint union-league investigation into abuse. The league and U.S. Soccer currently have open investigations.
Red Stars coach Rory Dames resigned in November after The Washington Post quoted several players as saying Dames was emotionally abusive.
Additionally, Farid Benstiti was dismissed by OL Reign last season after an incident during practice, and Racing Louisville's Christy Holly was fired for cause, but the reason was not disclosed.
Berman said she is actively looking at ways to strengthen the league's policies concerning discrimination, harassment and bullying, and to ensure that all parties are “appropriately on notice of the expectations of both the league office, our teams, our players and the union.”
“The fact that there is something to bring forward a complaint about is obviously not a positive thing, but the fact that a complaint was brought forward, and it was addressed is something that I hope that fans will recognize is our system working the way it’s intended," Berman said. “We’d hope to have a system and a culture where these issues are no longer happening, but to the extent they are happening, we at least now can start to have some confidence that the players and the individuals have confidence in our ability to be responsive and handle the matter appropriately."
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Anne M. Peterson, The Associated Press