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4 NWSL Coaches Banned, 10 Clubs Sanctioned in Abuse Scandal Fallout

The Washington Spirit and Kansas City Current both avoided punishment, but four former NWSL coaches now face lifetime bans from the league.

Ahead of Thursday’s 2023 NWSL Draft, league officials announced a wave of sanctions and permanent bans on a number of figures named in a joint investigation with the NWSL Players Association that began in the fall of 2021.

According to an official statement from the league, former NWSL coaches Paul Riley (North Carolina Courage), Christy Holly (Racing Louisville), Rory Dames (Chicago Red Stars), and Richie Burke (Washington Spirit) will each be subject to “permanent exclusion” from the league.

In addition, the Chicago Red Stars and Portland Thorns have been fined $1.5 million and $1 million, respectively. Majority partners Arnim Whisler of Chicago and Merritt Paulson of Portland have committed to sell their respective ownership stakes in the teams.

“The league will continue to prioritize implementing and enhancing the policies, programs, and systems that put the health and safety of our players first,” NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement. “Those actions are fundamental to the future of our league, especially as we build a league that strengthens our players’ ability to succeed and prosper on and off the pitch. As part of our commitment to accountability and deterrence, the league has determined that further corrective action with respect to certain organizations and individuals identified in the Joint Investigative Report is appropriate and necessary.”

Additional penalties include a $200,000 fine for Racing Louisville, a $100,000 fine for the Courage, and $50,000 each for OL Reign and NJ/NY Gotham FC.

Two individuals received temporary bans — ex-Utah Royals boss Craig Harrington and former Gotham FC general manager Alyse LaHue cannot work in the NWSL in any capacity for two years, with reinstatement scheduled for Jan. 9, 2025 on the condition that each acknowledges fault, accepts individual culpability for inappropriate conduct, participates in training exercises, and promises to correct past behavior. 

Finally, the NWSL revealed two clubs avoided fines: Washington Spirit and Kansas City Current. Washington escaped penalties due to its change in ownership, as Steve Baldwin stepped down and sold the club to Y. Michele Kang in March of 2022. Regarding the Current, the league noted concerns raised by players of being “mistreated or retaliation upon raising those concerns,” but there was no retaliation from the club against athletes.

In their announcement, the NWSL additionally encouraged execs of both clubs to hire sporting and coaching staff that is “completely distinct” from their respective men’s sides.

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About The Author
Vinciane Ngomsi
Vinciane Ngomsi
Vinciane Ngomsi is a Staff Writer at Boardroom. She began her career in sports journalism with bylines at SB Nation, USA Today and, most recently, Yahoo. She received a bachelor's degree in Political Science from Truman State University and when she's not watching old clips of Serena Williams' best matches, she is likely perfecting her signature chocolate chip cookie recipe or preparing a traditional Cameroonian meal.