KC Current are flying high. They can lead as league is hit with appalling abuse report

Reilly Wadsworth/Facebook/KC Current

The Kansas City Current will break ground on their new $117 million riverfront stadium Thursday. It’s an extraordinary moment for the women’s soccer club, and for the region.

The 11,500 seat stadium will be the first in the nation built primarily for women’s soccer. It’s largely self-financed, a model for other local sports franchises.

The KC Current makes its first trip to the National Women’s Soccer League playoffs in a few weeks, and we congratulate them for that success. The team averages more than 7,600 fans per game, the fourth best in the 12-team NWSL.

Yes — everything’s up to date with KC Current. So it’s sad and disturbing to note that the club’s success comes at a time of great crisis for the NWSL, and women’s soccer in this country.

Monday, the U.S. Soccer Federation issued a long-awaited report exploring allegations of physical, sexual and verbal abuse among NWSL coaches. The findings were deeply disturbing, even sickening.

One former coach coerced players into sexual relationships, an “open secret” according to the report. A second coach verbally abused youth players, calling them “fat asses” and “bitches,” along with other unpublishable names. He was hired to coach in the NWSL and the abhorrent behavior continued.

A third coach, in Louisville, groped a player while watching game film, and showed players pornographic videos. The team fired the coach, but worked to hide his grotesque behavior from the public.

“In general, teams, the NWSL, and USSF appear to have prioritized concerns of legal exposure to litigation by coaches — and the risk of drawing negative attention to the team or league — over player safety and well-being,” the report says.

While the report focuses on the three former coaches, it found harassment and improper behavior is too common in the NWSL. Just last year, half the league’s coaches were separated from their teams after player complaints.

The study did not report evidence of abusive behavior with the KC Current. It did find well-documented examples of poor facilities for FC Kansas City, the women’s soccer franchise that folded in 2017.

“Like many, we have found the (reports) hard to process and we commend those who came forward to speak,” the KC Current said in a statement Wednesday. It said the NWSL should learn from the study, and “build a league around player health and safety that our fans are proud to support.”

But it isn’t just professional soccer that needs to examine its practices. The report said misconduct starts long before an elite player reaches the top of the profession.

“Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture in women’s soccer, beginning in youth leagues, that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players,” the study says.

The investigation involved 200 interviews and runs more than 300 pages. It makes several recommendations, including full transparency when a coach is fired for misconduct, full background checks and licensing for coaches and prompt investigation of complaints.

These are important steps. But it’s also clear that harassment and abuse begin early in a player’s career, and that must change immediately.

We think the KC Current can take the lead here. It must speak out, in a firm voice, condemning any abusive conduct at any level of women’s soccer. Players could hold seminars with youth coaches and players, outlining unacceptable behavior and steps players can take if they’re abused.

The players in the NWSL are among the greatest athletes in the world. They deserve to compete in an environment totally free of abuse — physical, sexual, verbal. The work to ensure that environment must begin today, and the KC Current can lead the way.