Friday Newsletter: Enough is Enough
The Abuse of Women in the Soccer World—and the Systemic Failure to Deal With It—is Long Past a Time for Reckoning
The news this week alone has been another overwhelming reminder that women in the soccer world are being abused, and the groups entrusted to protect them aren’t doing that, and it’s a systemic problem, and the time for a reckoning has long since passed. Just consider these headlines from recent days:
• On Tuesday, Molly Hensley-Clancy of the Washington Post published a front-page investigative story detailing further allegations of abuse by former Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames, this time toward women’s youth players with his Chicago-area club team. (Dames denied the allegations through his lawyer.) In 1998, a police officer investigated after a report was filed by a player citing inappropriate physical touching, but prosecutors didn’t pursue the case and Dames was allowed to keep his job. The same pattern was repeated years later when NWSL players (including USWNT star Christen Press) twice raised alarms about Dames, including with U.S. Soccer, only for him to continue coaching.
Fútbol with Grant Wahl is a reader-supported soccer newsletter. You can sign up (free or paid) to get my posts in your inbox. Quality journalism requires resources. The best way to support my work is by taking out a paid subscription.
• Also on Tuesday, Génessis Alarcón, the former partner of Portland Timbers player Andy Polo, went on the Peruvian TV show Magaly TV La Firme and said Polo had pulled her hair, slapped her and given her a black eye. (Polo denied the allegations.) The Timbers released Polo after Alarcón’s assertions went public, but it also emerged that the Timbers had exercised their option to keep Polo on the team in December even though the club was well aware of an alleged domestic violence incident involving Polo and Alarcón from May 2021.
“We deeply regret not suspending Polo immediately [in May 2021], especially considering the troubling new details of abuse that surfaced this week,” the Timbers said in a Thursday press release. “It was a failure on our part, and one that will never happen again.”
But how can Portland be trusted on that when—according to Meg Linehan’s reporting in The Athletic—the same organization received a formal complaint from Thorns player Mana Shim in 2015 alleging abuse and sexual coercion by coach Paul Riley, conducted a not-thorough investigation, cut ties with Riley at the end of his contract (without citing Shim’s allegations publicly) and didn’t prevent Riley from going on to coach other teams in the NWSL?
• On Wednesday, Atlanta United announced the blockbuster signing of Argentine playmaker Thiago Almada after a transfer from Vélez Sarsfield for $16 million, an MLS record. But Almada had to begin his first Atlanta press event by apologizing to fans for making a racist gesture toward Asians after scoring a goal last year—in a celebration connected to Vélez winning the 1994 Intercontinental Cup against AC Milan in Japan—and having no comment about being implicated in a sexual assault investigation in Argentina that recently was resolved without police charges.
While Atlanta United officials said they made sure to do their due diligence, one of the club’s most prominent supporters groups, Footie Mob, issued a statement saying this: “There is no amount of athleticism that will allow for the mockery of a race of people who simply provided the venue for a match to be played. There is no number of goals that can be scored to approbate any proximity to sexual abuse. While we understand that this was a business decision, we are disappointed that the club chose to still move forward [with the Almada transfer.]”
• On Sunday, sporting director Marc Overmars of Ajax—one of the best on-field stories in Europe this season—resigned abruptly after women who work at the club reported him for sending sexually inappropriate messages over a period of time. It was a moment of accountability, and Ajax coach Erik ten Hag said the right things about protecting women, but the Dutch newspaper NRC quoted one woman at Ajax saying, “Sexism is part of the club’s culture.”
That’s just one week of news.
Not all these stories are exactly the same. But they all involve the abuse of women by people in soccer. They all involve deep-rooted cultures and conscious decisions by people in charge. The Portland and Chicago stories involve teams that didn’t do the right things when the public wasn’t aware and have only responded once things came out in the media.
That culture has to change. This can’t continue. Enough is enough.
OPENING THE MAILBAG
Apart from Nations League / Gold Cup, how is U.S. Soccer thinking about getting USMNT competitive fixtures in 2023-26 without World Cup qualifying? Copa América?
This is a great question that I’m hoping to learn more about soon. It makes sense that the U.S. would participate in the Copa América if the dates make it possible. Also, one reader suggested that co-hosts U.S., Mexico and Canada have their own three-team tournament, especially now that Canada has become a real player in the region. Qatar has also played against European teams on UEFA’s World Cup qualifying dates, so that might also be a possibility for the USMNT.
When is the right time for players like Pulisic and McKennie to come back to play for an MLS club? Will MLS ever change their policies to allow a club to pay what it would take to bring an American like Pulisic back here in their prime?
Under the MLS DP rule, teams could spend whatever they want right now for a player, subject to league approval. But I am curious to see if, in a few years, there might be interest from MLS teams in spending above-market money to land a Pulisic or McKennie in the same way that Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey came back to MLS for above-market salaries. And I’ll be curious to see if those players might be interested in doing that or not.
I have been watching games for 25 years now and still just don't understand tactics. I always feel behind even listening to normal fans discussing USMNT players. I've read your last book and I'm halfway through Inverting the Pyramid. How did you learn how to evaluate teams and players? Can you point me to any resources that would help me be a more knowledgeable fan?
Some of the best tactical analysts out there are Michael Cox of The Athletic, Matt Doyle of MLSsoccer.com and Joe Lowery of The Athletic and the Total Soccer Show. You should check them out.
Have a good weekend, everyone!
For all you do to give us great analysis of football, Grant--thank you for highlighting this dark side of sport, and of humanity. By shining a light on such actions, we hope to drive such individuals away from victims, and make our sport a safer space for everybody!
Great piece! It's really sad what the players in the NWSL have had to deal with in the last few years. Portland was a model franchise with great fan support, and even though as a Reign supporter I don't like the Thorns, I'm really disturbed and bummed for that franchise. The whole league needs an overhaul so this kind of predatory behavior never happens again.