October 2, 2021
Have a seat. This is going to take a minute.
First, thank you to Kaiya McCullough, Mana Shim, Sinead Farelly, and the numerous unnamed players who bravely spoke up regarding the abuse they suffered at the hands of NWSL coaches and staff. For those that haven’t spoken, we know you’re there, too. What happened to you was not your fault and was not okay. Any shame you feel needs to be taken off your shoulders and placed squarely where it belongs—on the abusers and their enablers. Thank you also to Meg Linehan, Katie Strang, Molly Hensley-Clancy, and all the underpaid (or not paid at all) reporters who cover the NWSL and attempt to hold frequently evasive feet to the fire.
As leaders and members of a supporters group (SG), we lend our time, energy, talents, money, and names to support our teams in a society hostile to athletes who are not straight, male, cisgender, White, able-bodied, and thin. We do this out of love for the game. We do this because we value our players, their hard work, and their skill. We do this because we want our teams and the league to succeed. Within the world of soccer, it is hard to have a successful team without a SG. We do this because for the league to succeed, it needs to be done. And while it is frequently a joy, it is also hard work.
Reading about the abuses suffered by NWSL players, about the ways in which those abuses were ignored and covered up, wasn’t just hard—it was personal. Some of us have suffered similar abuses, have loved ones who have been abused, or work professionally with people who have been abused. ALL of us are invested in the success of the NWSL, and the league’s prioritization of predators, abusers, and good press over protecting the players is a punch in the gut.
How did this happen? What needs to change? We will address first the league as a whole, then OL Reign.
How did this happen?
First, we need to recognize that the system didn’t fail—it did what it was designed to do. The majority of owners are rich, powerful men. It’s not surprising, then, that the system within the NWSL protects men and maintains their access to power. This is true across most industries and is supported by laws largely created by men to protect men. It crosses time zones and borders.
What needs to change?
1. Male owners need to recognize that they are not the ones to design a system that will protect the players. They need to acknowledge that they have blind spots and conflicts of interest that will keep them from fully prioritizing player safety. They also need to accept that safeguarding players will necessarily mean they give up some of their power. This could look like adopting a shared-governance model of the NWSL by the owners and the players. It could look like making changes to how teams sign players. It certainly should involve requiring the approval of the NWSLPA for the next NWSL commissioner. (If you are a male owner and read that paragraph and thought, “No f---ing way,” congrats! You’re part of the problem!)
2. We must divest ourselves of the idea that any one person is so singularly talented at whatever they do that they are worth the abuse they inflict on others. Abusers are often really good at convincing people and organizations that they will be worse off without them. Riley won some NWSL championships, but AT WHAT COST? Abusive people, be they staff, coaches, or athletes, should lose their jobs. Period.
3. We also must divest ourselves of the idea that “motivating” others through screaming, insults, slurs, or threats is ever valid or acceptable. Burke screamed at players on the field, and people saw and excused his behavior. Coaching through screaming isn’t a sign of passion; it’s a sign that the person in question is not controlling themselves, either because they can’t or because the environment they’re in doesn’t require it of them. Benstiti came into his position at OL Reign supposedly not even understanding his past behavior had been harmful. There must be clear standards of what is acceptable and what isn’t, and coaches must be held accountable.
4. Suspension and firing of coaches for cause should be disclosed publicly. All legal efforts should be made to disclose inappropriate or abusive behavior.
What happened seems pretty clear. Bill Predmore hired Farid Benstiti, found out about Lindsay Horan’s experience with Benstiti, and continued with the hire. In doing so, Predmore knowingly exposed his team to a man with a history of verbal abuse. He thought he put in appropriate “guardrails,” only to learn the hard way that abusers are going to abuse.
Next, Predmore suspended Benstiti and asked for his resignation. Reading between the lines, they may have agreed to a non-disclosure agreement to expedite Benstiti’s removal. Not addressed by Predmore was that this arrangement not only shielded Benstiti from public accountability, it shielded Predmore as well.
What to do seems less clear. Should we call for Predmore’s removal? Do we trust OL to appoint someone better in his stead? Was Predmore sincere in his press conference, or just doing damage control? The reality is that we are not the ones who are subject to the day-to-day impact of removing Predmore. On that matter, we must defer to and support our players. That said, Predmore has lost a lot of public trust and must demonstrate through clear, bold action that he is committed to keeping players within the league safe.
From our perspective, it is clear that OL Reign players need more seats at the table, in both hiring and firing. And not just the senior players. We love and trust our senior players, but they are also the least likely to be subject to potential abuse. Additionally, there must be a legal mechanism to remove a coach from duty and publicly state why. One advantage of our new French overlords was supposed to be deep pockets—use that money, hire some lawyers, and make it happen. Be willing to endure the public scandal for the sake of protecting future players. If Sinead, Mana, and Kaiya can do it, it should be the very least we expect of you.
To our players and to the NWSLPA, please know that we are here to support you, to amplify your voices, and to hold OL Reign and the NWSL accountable for their responsibility to keep you safe.
With love and solidarity,
Royal Guard Supporters Group