Think Out Loud

U.S. Soccer announces new player safety program

By Rolando Hernandez (OPB)
Feb. 3, 2023 5:24 p.m. Updated: Feb. 10, 2023 9:13 p.m.

Broadcast: Friday, Feb. 3

Last year, former Attorney General Sally Yates released an independent report outlining the abuse and sexual misconduct in Women’s Professional Soccer. In the report, Yates also shared recommendations to prevent abuse in the future. Now, U.S. Soccer has announced it will be implementing these recommendations, including the Safe Soccer Program. Anne Peterson is a sports writer for the Associated Press. She joins us to share what this program is and what it means for the future of the sport.


Note: This transcript was computer generated and edited by a volunteer.

Geoff Norcross: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Geoff Norcross, in for Dave Miller. We’re learning more and more about the culture of harassment and abuse in U.S. professional sports, especially women’s sports and especially soccer. Scathing reports recently came out about the culture of systemic abuse and misconduct in the Women’s National Soccer League, including in the Portland Thorns. Now the governing body for soccer in America is out with a program that it hopes will keep bad actors out of soccer – and not just in the pros. Anne Peterson is a sports writer with the Associated Press. She is based in Portland and she joins me now. Anne, welcome to Think Out Loud.

Anne Peterson: Hello, thanks for having me.

Norcross: Back in October, we had a report from the Yates Commission. This is a team that was led up by former acting Attorney General Sally Yates. The findings were just withering. They also came out with several recommendations, and now U.S. Soccer is acting on those recommendations. What are they doing?

Peterson: They’re really taking a three-pronged approach. This general program was announced on Monday, although we kind of had an idea of what the framework was going to look at because of the Yates report. The Yates report made 12 recommendations for addressing abuse in soccer at all levels. So U.S. Soccer has been working since October to implement these recommendations.

It’s three-pronged: The first one is a new Safe Soccer Program, and that’s probably the biggest headline grabber about what they’re doing because it would require background checks throughout the soccer ecosystem, from coaches to trainers, from the pros all the way down to youth soccer. Now, this is something that’s gonna take some time to implement. Obviously, you’re not gonna be able to institute a program for background checks all the way down to the youth level in this short of a period. What they’re going to do is start with the U.S. Soccer offices and some of the more prominent folks who are dealing day-to-day with players. Those background checks will start immediately, and then they will eventually filter down to all of the professional leagues including NWSL, MLS USL and then they will even expand further to youth soccer . . .

Norcross: Before we get to the other two points, this seems like a big deal. The addition of background checks. How significant do you think this is for soccer as a whole?

Peterson: Well, I think it’s necessary for soccer as a whole, especially in the youth system. I mean, Geoff, I have two kids myself who were involved in youth sports. Now they’re in college, but I used to do background checks on the coaches that they dealt with myself because I was concerned about these things. I didn’t want to leave my 12-year-old daughter at a practice with folks I did not know. So I think that this is a necessary step that U.S. Soccer needs to take. We also have seen reckoning with, and not that this is parallel by any means, but in the Catholic church now. When you volunteer at a Catholic school, you have to undergo training, a background check, to have any kind of contact at all with youth. I think that this is the direction we’re headed, not only in sports but in other aspects of our lives also.


Norcross: Back in 2021, the Portland Thorns players Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly came forward with allegations of harassment and sexual coercion against coach Paul Riley. Shim is now the chair of the task force aimed at creating safeguards. One thing this task force has proposed is abolishing nondisclosure agreements. Can you talk about why that’s important?

Peterson: Yes. That is not Mana Shim’s group; Mana Shim’s group is a Participant Safety Taskforce within U.S. Soccer. What U.S. Soccer is proposing – and this is kind of the second arm to what U.S. soccer proposed this week – is changes to Pro League Standards. These items must be approved by U.S. Soccer’s Board of Directors. One of the proposed updates for the Pro League Standards is this idea that you cannot use nondisclosure agreements anymore to hide misconduct or player abuse – that fall under any kind of that umbrella. That’s part of the proposed updates to Pro League Standards, and that’s one of several.

Then the third prong of the U.S. Soccer’s approach is Mana Shim’s group, which is the Participant Safety Hub. That will have an outline of best practices for teams and for coaches and for administrators. It will also be a hub for players to report incidents of abuse and misconduct.

Norcross: What are you hearing from players and fans about these proposals? What are their thoughts on the actions?

Peterson: You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who said this is a bad idea. I think that there’s general support for everything that U.S. Soccer is doing. You know, Geoff, this isn’t just a U.S. Soccer thing. As we saw today, abuse and misconduct scandals have even reached as far as U.S. Snowboarding. There was a lawsuit today. We’ve got the reckoning in U.S. Gymnastics. There [were] scandals in U.S. Swimming. So I think that this is an overall kind of reckoning for all sports in terms of dealing with abuse and especially abuse in women’s sports.

Norcross: To your point, this sounds familiar to me because I’m a rower, and I’m a member of USRowing. That governing body just came out with a SafeSport Training in the past year, which includes training on harassment and intimidation for anybody who works with kids. You’re seeing a broader reckoning in all sports in America here, not just soccer. Right?

Peterson: Absolutely, one hundred percent. I think that this is just a necessary look at the entire sports ecosystem in the United States and how we deal with players and protect them, both in terms of their safety and in terms of their mental health.

Norcross: Anne Peterson, thank you so much for this.

Peterson: Thank you so much, Geoff.

Norcross: Anne Peterson is a sports writer with the Associated Press.

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