The National Women's Soccer League announced on Sunday that its board of governors has formed an executive committee to manage oversight of the league's front office operations, following the resignation of commissioner Lisa Baird on Friday.
The committee includes Amanda Duffy (Orlando Pride), Angie Long (Kansas City NWSL) and Sophie Sauvage (OL Reign). The league added in its announcement that a global search for a permanent commissioner is underway.
"On behalf of the entire league, we are heartbroken for what far too many players have had to endure in order to simply play the game they love, and we are so incredibly sorry," the three executive committee members said in a statement. "We understand that we must undertake a significant systemic and cultural transformation to address the issues required to become the type of league that NWSL players and their fans deserve and regain the trust of both. We're committed to doing just that and recognize that this won't happen overnight, but only through vigilance over time."
The NWSL has been rocked by a series of managerial firings and resignations that in some cases were the result of sexual harassment, sexual coercion or other inappropriate behavior. This included the firing of former North Carolina Courage manager Paul Riley last week following revelations reported by The Athletic that he allegedly engaged in sexually coercive and emotionally abusive behavior.
There were protests outside the Portland Thorns stadium Providence Park on Saturday while several Major League Soccer games on Sunday saw fans display banners and chant support for the players of the NWSL.
The league also announced that it is launching several investigative and reform initiatives to protect players and staff, and the environments in which athletes live, train, and compete "to give athletes the agency and ability to safely report misconduct of any form."
Per the NWSL's announcement, the new initiatives include:
- An independent review of practices and policies at the league and club levels -- including workplace policies for each club in the league, league-mandated anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy, and processes for identifying, investigating, and enforcing violations of those policies -- to identify and reform deficiencies. The league will work with the players association to ensure that the results of these team and league reviews will serve as a road map to ensure safe environments for players and staff.
- Comprehensive policies and procedures created for the league and all member clubs to ensure moving forward that there is a systematic, transparent, and effective execution of any harassment or workplace conduct issues.
- A reopening of the 2015 investigation regarding former NWSL coach Paul Riley, including a review of the circumstances surrounding his departure from the Portland Thorns FC, and his subsequent hiring by Western New York Flash and the North Carolina Courage.
- A review of the available investigative reports related to all historical complaints of discrimination, harassment, or abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual) in the NWSL, and where necessary, a reopening of the respective investigation, or the initiation of a new adjudication process.
- The continuation of ongoing investigations initiated under the NWSL's current anti-harassment policy, and the recommendation of sanctions where appropriate.
The Athletic also reported that the league failed to act to make sure that repeat offenders were prevented from continuing to work in the NWSL, and also failed to further investigate additional accusations related to Riley. This led in part to the resignation of Baird and the ousting of general counsel Lisa Levine on Friday.
The league has retained Covington & Burling to oversee these investigations and make recommendations for reforms. Amanda Kramer, former assistant United States attorney in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, will lead the firm's team and will report directly to the NWSL board's newly formed executive committee.
In addition to the new initiatives, and the NWSL's current reporting avenues outlined in the league's anti-harassment policy, the league has partnered with RealResponse to allow players, former players, staff, former staff, and anyone with direct knowledge of, or witness to, misconduct in any form within the NWSL, to anonymously report all issues in regard to their health and safety. The contact information will be made available to current players and staff.