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The National Women’s Soccer League on Monday permanently banned former Racing Louisville FC coach Christy Holly, fined the club $200,000 and issued further corrective actions to be taken in the wake of a leaguewide investigation into systematic abuse and misconduct.
Holly, Racing's first head coach, was one of four former coaches to be permanently excluded from the NWSL after the league and its players association in December published a report detailing alleged verbal, emotional and sexual abuse that took place at eight of the league's 12 clubs, including two that previously employed Holly.
Other ex-coaches to receive bans include: Paul Riley (North Carolina Courage), Rory Dames (Chicago Red Stars) and Richie Burke (Washington Spirit).
The league's joint report built on a prior investigation released by U.S. Soccer in October, which revealed Racing fired Holly "for cause" on Aug. 31, 2021, following allegations of sexual assault and harassment made by former defender Erin Simon. Investigators also allege Holly engaged in a "pattern of misconduct," verbally and emotionally abusing other players in Louisville and during his two-year stint coaching the club now known as NJ/NY Gotham FC.
Racing was issued a level-two sanction in response to the NWSL and NWSLPA's findings. In addition to paying a $200,000 fine, the club will be required to hire a sporting staff — i.e., coaches and general managers — that is completely separate from Louisville City FC, with which it shares the ownership group Soccer Holdings LLC. The Racing staff must report directly to ownership, the league said in a statement.
"These changes will require leadership, accountability, funding and a willingness to embrace this new way of conducting business," NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said in the statement. "Our league and clubs are committed to making these changes and will do so with continued input from the NWSL Players Association to make the NWSL a league that sets the standard for the future of sports. I look forward to sharing more about our progress on our efforts ahead of our 2023 season."
According to the NWSL, all corrective action fines will be used solely in furtherance of systemic reform and to directly and positively impact the lives of players, such as expanding mental health resources and enhancing coaching education and development. Two clubs receiving level-one sanctions, the Chicago Red Stars and the Portland Thorns, were fined $1.5 million and $1 million, respectively.
After U.S. Soccer's investigation was published in October, Racing posted an opening for a general manager who reports to Soccer Holdings LLC President James O'Connor and will be responsible for player recruitment and performance oversight, as well as "implementing best practices across professional soccer." As of Monday afternoon, the general manager listing is no longer open to applicants.
The accusations, Racing's response
Holly is accused of inappropriately touching Simon during a one-on-one film session in April 2021 at Lynn Family Stadium. According to both the U.S. Soccer and NWSL reports, Simon told investigators Holly started the session by saying he would touch her "for every pass (she) f----- up."
Simon said Holly then repeatedly pushed his hands under her pants and under her bra. Louisville police have not charged the former coach with a crime.
According to both investigations, Racing moved to fire Holly shortly after former team chaplain Taylor Starr, in whom Simon confided one month prior, reported the allegations to club officials on Aug. 30, 2021. The following evening, the club tweeted a three-sentence statement announcing Holly's contract would be "terminated" but did not elaborate on the cause.
Racing entered a severance agreement with Holly that provided the former coach $14,000; required him to vacate his apartment in the same building where Simon and other players lived; and prevented both the club and Holly from making "disparaging" statements about the other party, according to the NWSL's joint investigation.
The league and its players association criticized the agreement, saying there's "no evidence" Simon's input was sought on the matter and that it "was far more limiting on the club than was necessary" to protect her confidentiality. Racing also reportedly disregarded a request from the NWSL to "pause" its firing of Holly to allow league officials to investigate.
In a statement published after the league's joint report was made public in December, Racing said it is "sorry for what happened during Christy Holly's tenure. We take responsibility for what happened, and we pledge to ensure a better team culture moving forward."
Racing went on to say in its statement that it entered the separation agreement with Holly "on advice of the club's former counsel … to protect our players from being named publicly." The club in hindsight said that decision was wrong, adding that O'Connor was not involved in crafting the non-disparagement provision.
"We strongly support the league severely restricting their use," the statement says of NDAs.
Racing outlined several changes it has made since Holly's contract was terminated in an October letter to season ticketholders, including providing access to an anonymous reporting platform for athletic teams and creating a more thorough vetting process for coaching hires, which gives players an opportunity to speak with candidates.
In November 2022, the club committed to hiring NWSL veteran Beverly "Bev" Goebel Yanez as a new assistant coach on Kim Björkegren's staff.
Reach recruiting and trending sports reporter Brooks Holton at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @brooksHolton.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: NWSL permanently bans Christy Holly following misconduct, abuse report