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  • Madison Granger

Report Shines Light on Dehumanizing Culture at NWSL

Last month the world got a sobering and discouraging picture of what life has been like for many players on the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) when the findings from an in-depth, independent investigation were released. The report primarily highlights three coaches who committed blatant sexual harassment and assault without facing appropriate consequences due to systemic communication failures, inadequate workplace protection policies, and a willingness of those in power to turn a blind eye. These bad actors were permitted to continue patterns of egregious behaviors for years, simply jumping from team to team when misdeeds caught up to them.

Beyond these three examples, the report details a culture that normalized and perpetuated systemic abuse from a variety of coaches. The list of offenses and descriptions align well with the “old school” form of coaching that sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from humanistic coaching. It includes things like creating a culture of fear, intimidating athletes, and behaving aggressively towards them. One player described her team environment as “dehumanizing and dangerous.” The report eloquently states, “The verbal and emotional abuse players describe in the NWSL is not merely ‘tough’ coaching. […] In well over 200 interviews, we heard report after report of relentless, degrading tirades; manipulation that was about power, not improving performance; and retaliation against those who attempted to come forward.”

I believe we are in the midst of a movement within the athletic community, one that is not unlike the media world’s “Me Too” movement. It has been marked by milestones such as the 2017 USA Gymnastics scandal (and subsequent Safe Sport Act) and now this landmark report from NWSL. This movement shines a light on unacceptable behaviors by coaches and other members of the athletics ecosystem that have been normalized and/or ignored for far too long. It brings victims of these behaviors out of the shadows so that the general public may know their stories, see where the systems at play have failed them, and demand better.

As the report puts it, “no one at the teams, the League, or the Federation demanded better of coaches.” This movement demands better of coaches and, at Coaching the Whole Athlete, we’re proud to be working in support of that cause.

Image Credit: Soobum Im/USA Today Sports, via Reuters, via NY Times

Part of demanding better of coaches happens at the administrative level: clearly outlining the kind of humanistic behaviors that are expected from coaches and the kind of abusive behaviors that will not be tolerated. Of course, this also includes holding coaches accountable when they defy these standards. It’s also critical to have and enforce policies that protect athletes and other whistleblowers from retaliation after they come forward.

Another part of it is working with coaches directly and empowering them to understand their influence and to serve their athletes better. We take pride in the fact that coaches graduate our program with increased recognition for the impact their words and actions have on the athletes they lead, as well as countless strategies for better supporting their athletes’ holistic needs.

To all our partners and past participants, thank you for being part of this movement with us. As disheartening as the NSWL report is to read, we also consider its very publication to be a significant step towards a brighter future of sport that we are dedicated to continue working towards. We applaud every brave individual who came forward and shared their story to make this report possible.

by Madison Granger

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