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NWSL to work with players' union on accountability demands

NWSL Racing Louisville Courage Soccer
Gerry Broome
North Carolina Courage defender Kaleigh Kurtz (3) and teammates greet fans following an NWSL soccer match against Racing Louisville FC in Cary, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021.

National Women’s Soccer League interim CEO Marla Messing has announced an agreement with the players' association to address demands made in the wake of abuse and harassment scandals that have shaken the league.

Messing, who took on the CEO role this week, also said the league would be collaborating with the union to investigate the allegations. The league has hired the law firm of Covington & Burling to conduct the inquiry.

“The goal of the NWSL is to be the best women’s soccer league in the world,” Messing said Wednesday. “We must root out these issues and this behavior in order for us to be in a position to achieve this goal.”

Two former players accused former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley of harassment and sexual coercion. Amid the fallout, Riley was fired and NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird resigned.

Other allegations of harassment have come to light involving former Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke, who was also fired. OL Reign coach Farid Benstiti was dismissed this summer for inappropriate behavior during practice.

Following those reports, the NWSLPA made a series of demands aimed at accountability. In agreeing to meet those demands, Messing said she is committed to transparency when it comes to working with the union.

Messing was president and CEO of the 1999 Women’s World Cup and helped land the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic bid. Most recently, she has served as CEO of USTA Southern California.

In her role as CEO, Messing will oversee operations of the league and work with the board of governors. She replaces the three-woman executive committee that was appointed to run the league after Baird's resignation.

The league continues its search for a permanent commissioner. Messing stopped short of saying she'd like a permanent role.

“There are a lot of challenges. And right now, you know, my mandate is to oversee the investigations to make sure that institutional change happens, and to run the day-to-day operations of the league —- and frankly that is what I’m focused on,” she said.

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