Further to last week's blog article by Mike Lee, detailing the Report produced by Sally Q. Yates, concerning the extent of abuse within the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), attention has also recently turned to allegations of abuse within the College system. The Guardian recently published an article that outlined how the failures in the College system resulted in multiple allegations of abuse and misconduct being dismissed whilst the accused coaches remained in prominent positions. This is something which has been seen in many other sports and other sectors. Organisations should learn lessons from others and rather than waiting for disclosure prepare a plan of what to do if abuse is disclosed so that errors seen repeatedly to have occurred can be avoided. Events involving the University of Toledo provide an example of just what can go wrong.
The Guardian article outlined how allegations against the former University of Toledo soccer coach, Brad Evans, had been ignored or dismissed whilst the College allowed Evans to resign on the basis of simple ‘misconduct’, thereby protecting his reputation and allowing him to further his career with the sport.
Former players and coaching members of the University of Toledo reported disturbing incidents of unwanted sexual advances, harassment, inappropriate comments and jokes spanning across the duration of his 13-year University coaching career. The allegations also included physical assaults at team dinners, comments and jokes about the players’ breasts and sexual advances when players were required to stay overnight. Those reporting incidents have commented on how they felt that they “didn’t have an option” to confront Evans due to his position as their boss and that their professional lives were made easier if “you went along with it”.
Evans resigned from his role with the University of Toledo in April 2015 citing “poor judgement” and claiming that his resignation would be “best for all involved”. However, a mere two years after his resignation Evans has accepted roles with the Ohio Youth Soccer Association and its Olympic Development Programme as well as a role as a US Soccer Federation coaching instructor.
Since the publication of the Guardian article, the US Soccer Federation has now suspended Evans’ coaching licence pending further investigation into the allegations. However, this could be seen as a rather slow and insufficient response for those victims that have been denied justice by the University whose inaction has been interpreted as attempting to protect Evans’ reputation.
Reports were made by players to the University in 2012 and 2015 which raised specific concerns regarding Evans’ conduct, with reports also being made by multiple former players, parents and coaches who had been affected. However, the University failed to address these concerns, countering the allegations by saying that they had received glowing reports of Evans or that they were simply “not able to make comment on it at this time”.
Furthermore, no reason was given by the University at the time of the resignation for Evans’ abrupt departure and victims were advised that their complaints would not be considered because Evans had resigned before the investigation had concluded. The failure of the University to fully explain the situation at the time allowed Evans to pursue a successful career elsewhere after his quiet resignation.
It is disturbing that despite these numerous complaints, the reports had seemingly not been sufficient to trigger an independent investigation or involve the Police. It is noted that it took the University over 5 years to acknowledge some of the misconduct allegations. In a response to The Guardian’s enquiries, the University stated that a conduct investigation was initiated in January 2015 after reports of verbal harassment, despite none of the complainants having any awareness of a player or coach alleging verbal harassment by Evans at this time.
The University also failed to provide any comment on the specific allegation that are contained within The Guardian expose. This stoic silence in response to direct enquiries falls in line with other institutions that have been considered in the Yates Report. There have been a number of institutions that have not co-operated with investigators in their efforts to address these pervasive issues within the sport.
This is an opportunity that cannot be spurned for US Women’s Soccer to turn a corner and address the issues that have affected the sport at many levels. All players that have been affected in any way by the conduct of those involved have been encouraged to work with the US Soccer Federation to expose perpetrators and help create a safer environment in which the health and welfare of the players remains every team’s utmost priority.
Organisations outside of US Women’s soccer can also learn from this example and be prepared should abuse be disclosed.