'Just all lies': Women's soccer reels from scathing report as Gotham FC fans demand change

This week’s release of a U.S. Soccer-commissioned report detailing years of verbal abuse and sexual misconduct by coaches in the National Women’s Soccer League has unraveled women’s soccer, with team executives ousted and some owners forced to step away from their teams.

In New Jersey, the report brought to light years of abuse at Sky Blue, now Gotham FC, and raises questions about how an allegedly abusive and unlicensed coach was able to continue getting jobs in professional women’s soccer, and move from team to team unscathed after being fired from the team for an allegedly inappropriate relationship with a player that created a toxic environment for teammates.

Gov. Phil Murphy, a longtime owner of Gotham FC, told reporters after an unrelated press event Wednesday that he was “disgusted” by the investigation's findings. He described the actions revealed in the report as “completely reprehensible and completely unacceptable,” and said he hoped the NWSL would proceed with adopting reforms so “stuff like this can never, ever, ever happen again.”

“I think we're the longest owners in this league who got into it because of our daughter,” Murphy said. “We said to ourselves, ‘It makes no sense that little girls in America look up to the No.1 national women's soccer team in the world and there's no real truly world class professional league.’

“That's why we got into it,” he continued, “and that's why we're going to stay in it.”

Murphy declined further comment, citing an ongoing investigation by the NWSL and NWSL Players Association. That investigation, separate from the report commissioned by U.S. Soccer, is likely to shed light on other forms of abuse in the league and further conversations about necessary reform.

The report focused on the misconduct of three coaches in the NWSL: Paul Riley, Rory Dames and Christy Holly, who began his career as a professional soccer coach with Sky Blue. In April 2021, Sky Blue rebranded as Gotham FC for strategic marketing purposes as well as to symbolize a new era for the club.

Former Racing Louisville FC coach Christy Holly poses for a picture at Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville, Ky. Holly was fired "for cause" in August 2021.
Former Racing Louisville FC coach Christy Holly poses for a picture at Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville, Ky. Holly was fired "for cause" in August 2021.

Though reports of Riley and Dames’ abuse had been widespread in the media, this week’s report was the first time a detailed accounting of Holly’s coaching career was made public. Holly was fired from Sky Blue in 2017, but his departure was framed in the public eye at the time as a mutual split. He was later hired by the U.S. Soccer Federation to work with national teams, and more recently with the expansion NWSL team Racing Louisville, where his alleged abuse continued to the point of sexual misconduct.

According to the report, Holly — who did not have the proper coaching license to even be hired as an NWSL coach to begin with — was verbally abusive to players and created a hostile environment. Erin Simon, a player he first drafted while a coach at Sky Blue, reported complaints of sexual misconduct and harassment with the league while a player at Louisville, which eventually led to his firing in August 2021.

Holly declined comment when reached on Thursday morning.

In the report, former Racing Louisville FC president Brad Estes said he spoke with Steven Temares, a founding owner of Sky Blue and former Bed Bath & Beyond chief executive, and afterward was under the impression that Temares would “100%" hire Holly again. “Temares’ comments assuaged [Estes'] concerns about any issues Holly had at Sky Blue,” according to the report.

“That's my biggest concern right now, as far as who is still involved with Gotham,” said Jen Muller, a board member of Cloud 9, a Gotham FC fan supporters' group. “I think Steve Temares needs to answer for that.”

Opinion:Details of NWSL abuse leaves me with one question: How dare you?

Gotham FC supporters: 'Just all lies'

Supporters of Gotham FC on Wednesday said they are still reeling from the news about their team’s former head coach. They now expect accountability from those in the front office and across the league.

“I was just floored by what Erin Simon was brave enough to come forward with,” said Muller, the Cloud 9 board member. “There’s a range of emotions. Anger is definitely up there, because a lot of us interacted frequently with Christy Holly.”

Racing Louisville FC's Erin Simon, left, defends Gotham FC's McCall Zerboni in a game last fall.
Racing Louisville FC's Erin Simon, left, defends Gotham FC's McCall Zerboni in a game last fall.

Muller even said that when Holly was fired, he blamed his dismissal on his assistant coaches “who want[ed] power.” Muller said she looks back at those texts now and realizes “it's just all lies.”

The Cloud 9 board member echoed similar sentiments felt across women's soccer, including from United States Women's National Team captain, Becky Sauerbrunn.

"It's systemic change that needs to happen," Muller said. "It comes down to accountability at this point, like Becky Sauerbrunn said, anyone that took any part in any of this needs to be out of the sport not just out of the team or the league, but they can't get rehired. They shouldn't be in the sport, or any."

Women & Sport:UEFA makes case to invest in women's soccer. Everyone should listen

On Wednesday, a Gotham FC spokesperson said club leadership is reviewing the report in conjunction with the league. The team referenced an existing statement about the initial findings of the report.

“We deeply appreciate and are indebted to everyone who came forward to share their experiences and shape the report, including our own players and employees,” the statement read. “We are confident that their courage, and the future publication of the independent NWSL/NWSLPA joint investigation, will usher in player-focused reforms that will continue to enhance the safety, well-being, and success of our players and employees. Club leadership is committed to working with the NWSL and remains a strong advocate for those reforms.”

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Gotham FC fans demand action after NWSL report on abuse