U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone said Thursday she shares the concerns of national team players who expressed dismay over the federation's handling of complaints against former Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames.
Christen Press, Crystal Dunn, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe were among the players who wrote a letter to Cone and former federation president Carlos Cordeiro on Wednesday followinga report in The Washington Postthat detailed allegations of misconduct stretching back to when Dames was a youth coach.
The accusations included verbal and emotional abuse and other inappropriate behavior. An elite youth player, who was not named by the Post, also said Dames groomed her for a sexual encounter once she turned 18. A lawyer for Dames denied the claims in the story.
“The Washington Post article was the first that U.S. Soccer learned of the latest allegations concerning sexual abuse by Rory Dames. As I’ve said to many of you personally, I am incredibly angered and saddened by the multiple reports that have come out about these horrific situations too many girls and women have had to endure within our sport,” Cone said in her response to the players. "As the president of U.S. Soccer, ensuring that soccer players at all levels in this country can participate in soccer in a safe environment is of the utmost importance for me personally and for the federation."
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Both Parlow Cone and Cordeiro are candidates for the next term as federation president. The election is set for March 5.
Players had insisted that their reports about abusive behavior and misconduct throughout the years had fallen on deaf ears.
“Over the years, while we played on the USWNT and in the National Women’s Soccer League, many of us reported to USSF instances where, as adults, we experienced abusive conduct by our coaches,” the players' letter said. “Now we have learned that this abusive treatment also was repeatedly reported by minors and that USSF failed to respond to protect these young players. That is utterly disheartening.”
Dames was investigated by police in Arlington Heights, Illinois, in 1998 after a former player said he inappropriately touched her when she was underage, the Post reported. The investigation was dropped because no formal complaint was filed.
Dames was one of five coaches in the NWSL who stepped down or were fired last season.
North Carolina coach Paul Riley was fired after two of his former players, Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, accused him of sexual harassment and coercion. Those allegations prompted the NWSL and U.S. Soccer to open investigations, and led to the resignation of NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird.
Dames abruptly resigned last November ahead of another report in the Post that said former players, including Press, had gone to U.S. Soccer with complaints about Dames going back to 2014.
Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler posted a statement on the team's website on Thursday. He apologized for falling short of hiring employees of character and said the team has made moves to ensure more oversight.
“I have spoken with many players and the experiences they have told me about are unacceptable. I am further heartbroken this week after learning about the allegations from former youth players that involved the Red Stars former coach at the youth club he founded. There is no place for abuse of any kind in soccer -- or anywhere,” Whisler said.
U.S. Soccer appointed former U.S. deputy attorney general Sally Yates to conduct an independent investigation. Yates issued a statement late Thursday.
“The scope of our investigation is broad. We are investigating not only allegations of misconduct, but also the factors that may have contributed to, perpetuated, or concealed abuse,” Yates wrote. “Our mandate is to find the truth and make recommendations to ensure that going forward, players are treated respectfully, wrongdoing is uncovered and addressed, and players are protected from harassment or retaliation.”
The players called for transparency and action.
“We will not stop fighting until we can ensure that this sport is safe for ourselves, for our daughters, and for every little girl who cheers us on and dreams of one day playing the sport we all love,” the letter said. “We hope your immediate actions will demonstrate that you both share this goal.”
In addition to Dunn, Morgan, Press and Rapinoe, the players' letter was signed by Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, Sam Mewis, Kelley O’Hara and Becky Sauerbrunn.
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