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Holly is accused of sexually assaulting former Racing defender Erin Simon in April 2021, according to reports from both the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) and the NWSL and its players association. Investigators also allege Holly engaged in a "pattern of misconduct," verbally and emotionally abusing players in Louisville and during his two-year stint coaching the club now known as NJ/NY Gotham FC.
Both the investigation and former players who have spoken with The Courier Journal say Racing's ownership group, Soccer Holdings LLC, overlooked complaints lodged against Holly's behavior during his tenure in Louisville.
Here's a timeline of how the team got here:
Aug. 12, 2020: Racing Louisville FC hires Christy Holly
When Holly was introduced as Racing's inaugural coach, then-Soccer Holdings LLC Executive Vice President of Development James O'Connor said, "I really believe we have the very best person for the job."
"We brought in somebody that fits the way we like to do things," former ownership group President Brad Estes said at the time.
The Yates report, however, outlines issues with the vetting process that let Holly join the club after he was asked to step down as coach of Sky Blue FC — now Gotham — in 2017 amid what General Manager Tony Novo called "repeated and ongoing complaints by players regarding Holly’s verbal and emotional abuse." Investigators say Holly's relationship with Sky Blue captain Christie Pearce Rampone had become so disruptive that he "'lost the locker room.'"
Racing Louisville FC:5 key questions about the club following bombshell NWSL investigation
"Although Holly never held the requisite license to be a Head Coach in the NWSL — not in 2016 and not in 2021 — this was lost or overlooked in inconsistent efforts to organize and enforce League and USSF standards," the report added. "... Without a clear record of why Holly left Sky Blue, any concern that was raised was dismissed in Racing Louisville’s hiring process as a 'chemistry' or 'human resource' issue."
Nov. 12, 2020: Racing Louisville selects Erin Simon in NWSL Expansion Draft
Simon played for Holly at Sky Blue before Racing selected her during the 2020 NWSL Expansion Draft.
Simon told investigators Holly sent her "sexualized" text messages while at Sky Blue and continued to harass her after they both left the club, including sending her pictures of his genitals and a video of him masturbating.
Simon said she was "happy" when Racing selected her, telling investigators she believed Holly would stop if he was her coach again.
April 21, 2021: Christy Holly reportedly assaults Erin Simon
Simon told investigators Holly continued to harass her and, during a one-on-one film session in a suite at Lynn Family Stadium, said he told her he would touch her "for every pass (she) f***** up."
"She recalled, Holly started touching her, repeatedly pushing his hands under her pants to touch her genitals and under her bra to touch her breasts" the Yates report states. "She remembers she tightly crossed her legs and pushed his hand away."
No criminal charges have been filed against Holly, and Louisville Metro Police said "no reports have been taken" regarding the former coach, who declined comment when reached by The Courier Journal on Monday.
July 2021: Erin Simon confides in team chaplain Taylor Starr
After the film session, Simon told investigators Holly "stopped physically abusing me but started verbally abusing me." She said the coach would not say whether or not she would be in starting lineups, refused to shake her hand as she came off the field and "tore her apart in front of others."
'Let us be the voices':Ex-Racing Louisville FC player Erin Simon thanks fans for support
By July, Simon confided in Racing chaplain Taylor Starr and made her promise not to tell anyone, according to the Yates report.
Aug. 30, 2021: Taylor Starr reports allegations to lead chaplain
Starr told investigators she had trouble keeping her vow of secrecy to Simon and admitted, "I held onto it for a little too long."
Starr sought counsel from the NWSL's volunteer chaplain coordinator, who "offered empathy, but not clarity" on how to proceed, according to the Yates report. And after speaking with members of her church, she told Racing's lead chaplain Garret Bates that Holly had been "sexually harassing" an unnamed player.
From there, Starr told investigators that "things moved really quickly."
Aug. 31, 2021: Racing Louisville FC fires Christy Holly 'for cause'
Starr met with Estes, O’Connor, Bates and Human Resource Manager Erin Wilkins, according to the Yates report. Starr told investigators she felt "pressured to disclose Simon’s name because ... the team stressed 'they had 24 other players to protect.'"
Club executives and HR representatives soon met with Simon, who told investigators she felt scared detailing her experience to the group but "ultimately did not hold anything back."
"I knew it was going to lead to his firing, but I really believed it would protect the players," Simon says in the report. "I was not ready, but I do not regret it."
At the end of the meeting, club executives told Simon that Holly would be fired that evening, according to the Yates report. Simon said Estes later called her to say Holly identified her by name, "threw his keys across the table, and left" after being confronted about "an inappropriate relationship."
Racing held a team meeting around 9:15 p.m., roughly an hour after Holly was terminated, with O'Connor, Estes and HR representatives in attendance, the report states. At 9:50 p.m., Racing tweeted a three-sentence statement announcing Holly's contract would be "terminated" but did not elaborate on the cause.
A statement from the club: pic.twitter.com/t9hoFpCBvt
— Racing Louisville FC (@RacingLouFC) September 1, 2021
During the team meeting, players were told "Holly had been fired due to an inappropriate relationship with a player, that they had investigated and substantiated the reports, and that his behavior was 'unacceptable,'" according to the Yates report.
"(Executives) promised to make changes in order to ensure it would not happen again," the report states. "They noted that the player wished to remain confidential, and asked the team to respect that and keep this 'within our locker room.'"
Mario Sanchez was named interim coach.
Sept. 2021: Soccer Holdings LLC addresses Holly's firing
When asked by reporters if Holly's termination was linked to anything illegal, O'Connor said: "A great question. I don’t know whether I’d say illegal. I don’t know, that’s a subjective viewpoint, if you like."
"I’ll plead the fifth," he concluded. "I’ll take the attorney line on that."
James O’Connor on if Holly’s termination was linked to anything illegal:
“A great question. I don’t know whether I’d say illegal, I don’t know, that’s a subjective viewpoint, if you like. ... I’ll plead the fifth. I’ll take the attorney line on that.”
— Hayes Gardner (@HayesGardner) September 2, 2021
Robin Pryor, leader of Racing's Lavender Legion supporters group, told The Courier Journal she emailed O'Connor after Holly's firing to get an explanation of the decision. Pryor said O'Connor and Estes met with several supporters groups representatives but offered only "a Sunday school answer."
Herman Quinn Jr., president of The Coopers supporters group for Louisville City FC, a men's team also owned by Soccer Holdings, was at the meeting and said O'Connor made it seem the reason behind the firing was "not that bad."
"We're out trying to help them do damage control not knowing what the real damage is," Quinn said, "and so now we feel like we helped covered up a sexual predator."
Oct. 2, 2021: U.S. Soccer Federation commissions Yates report
The USSF retained Yates and Atlanta-based law firm King & Spalding LLP to conduct an independent investigation in September 2021, after reporters at The Athletic revealed sexual harassment and coercion allegations against Paul Riley, one of the winningest coaches in the NWSL, dating back 2015. Riley was fired as coach of the North Carolina Courage, and former NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird resigned in the wake of The Athletic's report.
The NWSL and the National Women's Soccer League Players Association are also collaborating on a separate investigation that remains ongoing. Yates and her team recommended the league "determine whether discipline is warranted in light of these findings" and the findings of the joint investigation.
Dec. 9. 2021: Racing Louisville FC hires Kim Björkegren to succeed Christy Holly
After Racing finished its inaugural season with a record of 5-7-12, Kim Björkegren was hired to lead the club.
The Sweden native was a front runner for the job after guiding Cyprus’ Apollon Ladies FC to an undefeated season in the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
Racing finished its first season with Björkegren at the helm with a record of 5-8-9.
Jan. 3, 2022: Brad Estes announces departure from Soccer Holdings
After working with Louisville City FC since 2016 and Racing since its inception, Estes decided to step down as Soccer Holdings LLC's president. He now works for a local healthcare company.
O'Connor was named interim president of Soccer Holdings LLC and took over the position full time on April 27, 2022.
June 13, 2022: Racing Louisville FC waives Erin Simon
Racing waived Simon after a 2-4-2 start to its 2022 campaign, saying the defender was "making plans to continue her playing career elsewhere." The New Jersey native appeared in 29 matches for the club.
"Since Day 1, Erin has always displayed a first-class attitude and work ethic," O’Connor said in a statement at the time. "We are thankful for her contributions as we launched the club and look forward to seeing her continued success."
On July 11, 2022, Simon inked a deal with Leicester City FC, an English club that plays in the Women's Super League.
Oct. 3, 2022: Yates report published
The Yates investigation focused on three NWSL coaches: Holly, Riley and former Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames.
The report said investigators spoke with more than 200 people involved in the league, but it said Racing "did not fully cooperate" with the investigation.
The report said Racing "refused" to turn over documents concerning Holly and would not let witnesses — even former employees — answer questions regarding his tenure, "citing non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements" the club signed with the former coach.
Dr. Mark Lynn, who purchased the naming rights to Racing's stadium in 2019, said he was told the club chose to sign NDAs with Holly to "protect" Simon, who agreed to have her name published in Yates' report and told ESPN through a spokesperson she wants to do "everything in my power to ensure that no other player must experience what I did."
Former Racing captain Michelle Betos, however, said she now questions whether the club was only protecting itself.
"Everyone was committed to protecting our teammate," she said. "... (But) I still don't even know if that's real."
'They need to clean house':Former Racing captain responds to Christy Holly investigation
Oct. 5, 2022: James O'Connor responds to Yates report; protest at Louisville City FC match
Two days after the investigation was released, O'Connor acknowledged Racing made a "mistake" in hiring Holly in a statement published to the team's website.
"We have learned from that mistake, and we apologize to Erin Simon, to our players past and present and to our fans," he said in the statement.
The club will cooperate with the pending NWSL/NWSLPA joint investigation, he said.
To some supporters, the statement was not enough. Several groups attended Louisville City's match against Detroit the night it was published to protest the club's handling of Holly.
Members of the @LavenderLegion are outside Lynn Family Stadium protesting @RacingLouFC’s handling of sexual assault allegations against ex-coach Christy Holly.
All three supporters agreed that there was “no accountability” in club President James O’Connor’s statement today. pic.twitter.com/hZw5b3Mx4O
— Brooks Holton (@brooksHolton) October 5, 2022
Members of The Coopers and The Lavender Legion sitting in Estopinal End watched the first half of Wednesday's match in silence to express their outrage. When the second half kicked off, they unveiled a banner reading, "ARREST HOLLY." Below it hung banners reading, "J.O.C. OUT" and "YOU KNEW."
— Brooks Holton (@brooksHolton) October 6, 2022
Oct. 8, 2022: Racing Louisville FC players release statement on Yates report
Racing forward Emina Ekic, a Louisville native who played at Manual High School and U of L, tweeted the following statement on behalf of her teammates regarding the findings of Yates' report:
"We, the players of Racing Louisville, are deeply saddened and horrified by the findings of U.S. Soccer's investigation as detailed in the Sally Yates report. We commend and support our former teammate, Erin Simon, and the other courageous players that have come forward and shed light on the system abuses in women's soccer. Their bravery and resilience have inspired us and so many others to use their voices to demand change.
"We hope the NWSL and NWSLPA joint investigation will continue to uncover the remaining truths we deserve and demand. The conclusion of this investigation will give us much needed insight and recommendations on the future of our club. The systemic abuse that has plagued this league for far too long is both infuriating and unacceptable. No human being should ever feel unsafe in their work environment. The fact that this abuse and harassment occurred within our club is an unimaginable horror. We expect the club's full cooperation in the ongoing investigation, as silence is no longer an option.
"To our fans and community, we want to thank you for your continued support and love during this difficult time. While we understand your outrage, we urge you to continue to stand behind the players as we await the results of this investigation. The past few days have been emotionally exhausting as players across the league relieve past traumas. However, the overwhelming support has strengthened our resolve to vehemently demand solutions for change and a better future for all those who come after us."
Oct. 21, 2022: Racing Louisville FC announces search for general manager
Racing posted an opening for a new general manager position on Oct. 21, 2022, in hopes of cultivating "an inclusive, safe environment of which players and fans can be proud."
The club in its announcement said the general manager will report to O'Connor and will be responsible for player recruitment and performance oversight, as well as "implementing best practices across professional soccer."
In a letter sent to ticketholders the same day as the GM search announcement, Racing addressed several changes it has made since Holly's contract was terminated in August 2021, including:
Providing companywide access to RealResponse, an anonymous reporting platform for athletic teams;
Requiring all employees to participate in SafeSport training, including abuse awareness and prevention;
And creating a more thorough vetting process for coaching hires in conjunction with the NWSL, which gives players an opportunity to speak with candidates.
The club said it will adhere to recommendations made in a second investigation by the NWSL and its players association, according to the letter, and it has already committed to:
Adding a new assistant coach to work with players on their individual development;
Updating companywide anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies and practices;
Forming an internal committee of Soccer Holdings employees to regularly get players' feedback;
And scheduling town hall events where season ticketholders can share input.
"It is our hope that these efforts lead to the positive change we all want to see," the letter said. "We will listen, learn and act to ensure we maintain the best possible environment for players."
Dec. 14, 2022: Report from NWSL, players association sheds light on Racing's separation agreement with Holly
A joint investigation from the NWSL and its players association revealed Racing entered into a severance agreement upon Holly’s departure 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.
The agreement included a caveat that allowed Holly to provide an "honest assessment" of Racing players, but it did not allow the club to "voluntarily disclose Holly’s misconduct to law enforcement."
If either party broke the agreement, they would have to pay the other $5,000.
Investigators condemned the agreement, writing the non-disparagement provision "prevented the club from being able to confirm Simon’s account if she chose to share her experience publicly." It also put other players at risk, investigators said, "by preventing the club from disclosing Holly’s conduct to any clubs and organizations considering hiring Holly."
After the report was made public, Racing released a statement saying the club 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 said it entered the separation agreement with Holly "on advice of the club's former counsel … to protect our players from being named publicly." It now says that decision was wrong, adding 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.
Jan. 9, 2023: NWSL permanently bans Holly, fines Racing $200,000
Holly was one of four former coaches to be permanently excluded from the NWSL in the wake of its joint investigation with the players association. Other receiving bans included: Riley (North Carolina Courage), Dames (Chicago Red Stars) and Richie Burke (Washington Spirit).
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 a statement from the league. "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.
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 abuse report: Timeline of Christy Holly, Racing Louisville FC