LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and the NWSL Players’ Association Investigative Team released its findings in an exhaustive yearlong inquiry into misconduct across the league. They named the ownership and coaches of Racing Louisville FC as part of the investigation.

What You Need To Know

  •  The NWSL and NWSLPA issued the report of a joint internal investigation 

  •  In its handling of former coach Christy Holly, the report says Racing Louisville FC should have done more to vet Holly and protect players 

  •  The report also describes Holly's terms of severance, which included a $14,000 payment

  • The report recommends strengthening harassment policies and establishing guidelines for appropriate interactions between staff and players

The report addresses allegations of misconduct relating to former Racing coach Christy Holly, which became public when former acting Attorney General Sally Yates released a U.S. Soccer report in a separate investigation. According to the report by Yates, Holly had a history of misconduct when he coached at Sky Blue, a pattern which he continued soon after being hired as the Racing coach.

Specifically, Yates’ report detailed allegations by former player Erin Simon, who alleged Holly would send her explicit text messages, invite her over to his house and touch her inappropriately. Simon also told of a disturbing incident in which Holly compelled her to watch game film and said he was going to touch her for every mistake she made. Simon said he forced his hands down her pants and up her shirt.

When Simon later reported the misconduct to club management, Holly was fired within hours and the club issued a statement, saying he was fired, “for cause.”

In the joint report, the NWSL and NWSLPA said the club should’ve done more to vet Holly and protect the players. They say that, “Racing did not go far enough in assessing his treatment of players,” by not speaking with Sky Blue President Tony Novo or speaking directly to Sky Blue players. As a result, Racing Louisville did not learn about Holly’s mistreatment of players prior to his hiring.

The report claims the club management of Racing Louisville did not appropriately respond to players’ reports about Holly’s conduct. As early as June 2021, players reported Holly had “shouted at” and “personally attacked players.” Management responded by holding a joint meeting with players and coaching staff, which players said created a “fear of retaliation” which discouraged them from reporting further concerns.

Racing Louisville FC responded to the report in a statement saying, "As it relates to the separation agreement and non-disparagement language mentioned in the report, it was never our intent to hinder any investigation or stop any player from speaking out. In fact, we applaud every player who has told her story publicly. On advice of the club’s former counsel, we entered the agreement with Holly to protect our players from being named publicly as the events were unfolding. Although the motives were born out of what we perceived to be in the best interests of the players and in the interest of expediting the dismissal of Holly, we recognize in hindsight that was the wrong decision. Our current team president was not involved with crafting the NDA, and we strongly support the league severely restricting their use."

Finally, NWSL and NWSLPA revealed the club fired Holly within hours of speaking to Simon, and despite a request from the NWSL that they let the league investigate. In announcing the termination, the club only shared that it was “for cause” and did not specify that the cause was sexual misconduct. The club also entered into a severance agreement with Holly that included a non-disparagement provision, which the club and its executives cited when declining to speak freely with the Joint Investigative Team.

The report revealed Holly’s severance agreement with Racing Louisville provided him a severance payment of $14,000, and that the club would take over the future payment obligations of his apartment lease if Holly vacated the apartment. If a party violated the non-disparagement clause, the other party would be entitled to a payment of $5,000. No carve-out was made that would allow the club to voluntarily disclose Holly’s misconduct to law enforcement.

Russell Weaver, a professor of law at the University of Louisville, suggests that prohibiting reporting to law enforcement is abnormal. "In general, I think if you have a violation of the law, it seems to be a bit over the top for a non-disclosure agreement to say you can't report this to law enforcement authorities. So it strikes me that it violates public policy," he explained. 

In a statement, Racing Louisville leadership says the team "cleaned house" and made changes to the coaching staff following Holly's tenure. It added, "The staff and culture of 2021 is not the staff and culture of Racing Louisville FC today. We have fully embraced the need for change that protects our players and provides them with the support they deserve to feel safe and protected.

The team said since Holly's termination in Aug. 2021, it has implemented several steps to improve the culture going forward. These include:

  • Provided company-wide access to RealResponse, the leading safe and secure feedback, monitoring and anonymous reporting platform for athletic teams and organizations.
  • Required all employees to participate in SafeSport training, which includes abuse awareness and prevention guidance.
  • In conjunction with the NWSL, created a more thorough, exhaustive vetting process for coaching hires responsible for assembling Racing Louisville’s current staff. Moving forward, players will also have the opportunity to speak to potential new coaching hires.
  • Opened the search for a Racing Louisville general manager position to oversee day-to-day team operations with a goal toward improving on and off the field. Duties include oversight of performance, player recruitment and compliance while providing support and insight for players and staff.
  • Added a new assistant coach to the Racing technical staff. This coach will liaise directly with players on their individual development plans while also working with staff on coaching objectives.

Fan response on social media to Racing Louisville's Thursday statement was mixed to say the least, with some calling it a "good step" and even more calling it "empty." Many vocal supporter groups are still calling for the firing of James O'Connor, president of Soccer Holdings LLC, which owns Racing Louisville FC.

The NWSL and NWSLPA made recommendations to prevent misconduct in the future, such as strengthening anti-harassment policies, developing and enforcing policies on interactions between players and staff, improve hiring practices and reporting procedures, and prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives to create a more inclusive environment.

Responding to the report, U.S. Soccer tweeted a statement saying that they were in close communication with both investigation teams and would address the recommendations of their reports. “We are grateful to the NWSL and NWSLPA for their important efforts to understand the factors that led to abuse in women’s professional soccer,” they said.

When the finding of the independent Yates investigation became public, some sponsors threatened to withdraw their sponsorships. Fans staged silent protests, standing silently in the stands for the first half of several games.