The NWSL Players Association Is Driving League Decisions Now
In the sixth minute of each National Women’s Soccer League game on Wednesday night, play came to a halt.
The players on both teams in Chester, Pennsylvania, where Gotham FC was playing a match to honor Carli Lloyd (from nearby Delran, New Jersey) against the Washington Spirit, came together at midfield, locked arms, and marked the six years it took for the abuse suffered by Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly, detailed by Meg Linehan and Katie Strang, to be heard.
“Teams will stop play in each of tonight’s games at the 6th minute,” the NWSLPA said in a statement Wednesday night. “Players will join together in solidarity at the center circle for one minute in honor of the 6 years it took for Mana, Sinead, and all those who fought for too long to be heard. We call on fans to stand in silence with us. During that time, we ask you to stand in that pain and discomfort with us, as we consider what we have been asked to sit with for too long.
“We call on you to consider, in that minute, what is demanded of each of us to reclaim our league and our sport.”
This is what it looked like in Chester:
As has been the case throughout this process, a clearly-defined set of priorities have been paired with protests from the NWSL PA. Accordingly, the union released this set of demands Wednesday night as well.
1. Every coach, General Manager, representative on the Board of Governors, and owner voluntarily submit to the Players Association’s independent investigation into abusive conduct. They may notify Executive Director Meghann Burke of their agreement with this demand by the close of business on Wednesday, October 13, 2021.
2. The scope of NWSL’s investigation announced on Sunday evening, October 4, 2021, be expanded to include an investigation of each of the twelve NWSL Clubs represented on the Board of Governors to determine whether any abuse, whether presently known or unknown, has occurred at any point in time.
3. The scope of NWSL’s investigation further be expanded to determine whether any League Office staff, NWSL Club, or person in a position of power within NWSL neglected to investigate concerns of abuse raised by any player or employee at any point in time.
4. NWSL adopt an immediate “Step Back Protocol” whereby any person in a position of power (e.g. owner, representative on the Board of Governors, General Manager, or Management Supervisor) at the time that a Club either hired or separated from employment a coach who was, is, or will be under investigation for abuse be suspended from any governance or oversight role within NWSL pending the conclusion of an independent investigation, effectively immediately. For any Club that took swift action to protect players upon the discovery of facts that were not previously known to the Club, the immediate disclosure to the Players Association of the circumstances and the policies or practices implemented to prevent the same from happening again may be grounds to restore that person to their position quickly, with the Players Association’s agreement.
5. NWSL immediately agree to disclose all investigative reports referenced in its statement of October 3, 2021.
6. NWSL immediately agree to disclose to the Players Association any and all findings, conclusions, and reports are obtained pursuant to their statement of October 3, 2021, including but not limited to the reopening of the 2015 Paul Riley investigation.
7. NWSL agrees to cooperate with the Players Association’s own independent investigation by a written email to Executive Director Meghann Burke by the close of business on Wednesday, October 13, 2021.
8. NWSL agrees that representatives of the Players Association have an opportunity to meet with potential Commissioner candidates and have a meaningful opportunity to be heard in the selection of the next Commissioner.
To break this down: the players are looking for what amounts to a systematic accounting for what’s been covered up in the past, what is presently under investigation, as well as a say in the future governance of the league.
Or as writer Jess Luther put it:
As discussed here before: staying organized, a collective speaking with one voice, has helped create this moment every bit as much as the public reckoning in the press.
The largely unknown elements of what happens next are twofold: what the league, as it moves forward without a commissioner, does at a time the players are able to dictate terms.
And then there’s the not-insignificant element of sponsorship dollars. Much of the growth of the league, and players feeling comfortable coming forward without worrying about jeopardizing the NWSL’s existence, came from a firmer financial footing. Which is what Just Women’s Sports founder and former NWSL player Haley Rosen means when she says this:
But to get a sense of just how in control the players are now, witness what took place in Portland. Thursday evening, ahead of the Thorns’ match, the players released this statement:
Less than an hour later, the Thorns replied:
Whatever happens next, across the league, represents a sea change in who has the power to create change in the NWSL. It is a union that was formed for just this purpose, and a necessary, cleansing vacuum that’s expedited how the PA can proceed.
How that affects the league’s future will come down to the level of buy-in from those who remain at ownership and league levels, and whether sponsors stick around for the road ahead. But make no mistake: the NWSLPA is driving this bus.