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Red Stars' Dames Resigns Amid Abuse Allegations; NWSL Players Say U.S. Soccer Failed to Act

Less than 48 hours after leading the Chicago Red Stars into the NWSL championship, where they lost to the Washington Spirit, coach Rory Dames resigned amid multiple allegations of emotional and verbal abuse. 

According to an investigation conducted by The Washington Post, Dames's behavior allegedly ranged from verbal abuse during team activities to off-the-field expectations that went beyond the boundaries of a normal player-coach relationship. 

Some of the allegations of abuse in the report include: texting players at all hours, asking players to spend significant time at lunches and dinners with him that he said were mandatory, joking that an Asian player should be smarter than how she was playing, commenting to religious players about their holidays, calling a player from Appalachia "trailer trash," comments on players' appearances, withholding family time off for a player due to her performance during a game and, on one instance, allegedly benching a player after she introduced him to her boyfriend. 

Nov 14, 2021; Portland, OR, USA; Chicago Red Stars head coach Rory Dames watches his team from the sideline against the Portland Thorns during the first half of the NWSL semi final at Providence Park.

Dames is the fourth NWSL coach this year to have been dismissed over misconduct allegations, with a fifth, former Racing Louisville FC coach Christy Holly, being fired "for cause" with no additional details given. Former NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird also resigned after allegedly sidestepping pleas to reopen an investigation against former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley, who was accused of sexual misconduct.

U.S. women's national team star Christen Press was one of seven players who said  Dames had been emotionally abusive, including five players who sought to be traded or leave the team due to the alleged abuse. 

“I think Rory emotionally abuses players,” Christen Press wrote in notes compiled for a formal complaint obtained by The Washington Post. “He doesn’t have a safe distance between himself and his players. He uses his power and status as the coach to manipulate players and get close to them.”

Multiple players reportedly went to the U.S. Soccer Federation since it oversaw the NWSL at the time and paid national team players to play in the league. Press said she first told former U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati about her concerns with Dames but was dismissed. Press also said she had been told that she needed to play in the NWSL to keep her spot on the national team.

“I was terrified of what Rory would do and say if he found out this was something I’d said,” Press said. "And then I was made to feel by U.S. Soccer that I was in the wrong, there was nothing to report, and that this was acceptable.”

Molly Levinson, who represents several USWNT players in their lawsuit over unequal pay, said U.S. Soccer failed to protect players from abuse. 

“The U.S. Soccer Federation should provide safe and accountable mechanisms for players to report harassment and abuse, free from retaliation, and if necessary, take steps to hold to account anyone who does not adhere to proper standards,” Levinson told The Washington Post. “USSF utterly failed to do any of those things in this case.”

The NWSL Players Association released a statement on Monday evening to offer support to any player who speaks out against abuse.

“This type of coaching has no place in the NWSL, youth soccer or anywhere else,” the statement read. “We stand with Christen Press, Jen Hoy, Sam Johnson and any player who comes forward to speak out against abuse of any kind.

“We have said it before and will say it again now: the system has failed us. Through our investigation, we will seek out the root causes of these systematic failures to prevent this from happening to future generations. Nothing short of a complete transformation of our league will suffice.”

U.S. Soccer said it has since launched an investigation into the NWSL led by Sally Q. Yates, the former acting attorney general.

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