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OL Reign fined as part of league’s corrective action

Farid Benstiti also can’t return to the NWSL unless conditions are met.

Portland Thorns FC v OL Reign

On Monday, the NWSL announced “corrective action” in response to the league/NWSL Players Association’s Joint Investigative Report released in December 2022. As previously reported, the Joint Investigative Team found failures across the league and made 39 systemic recommendations to the league to address those issues.

One of those was around discipline to individuals and organizations who perpetuated systemic abuse and mistreatment of players, and today the NWSL has imposed individual bans and suspensions, club fines, and conditions for certain individuals to be eligible for future work in the league.

Four coaches received permanent bans from the NWSL: Paul Riley, Christy Holly, Rory Dames, and Richie Burke. Craig Harrington and former Gotham FC GM Alyse LaHue are suspended for two years and must meet certain requirements to qualify for future employment in the league.

Former OL Reign head coach Farid Benstiti was one of six coaches placed in a third category. In order to be eligible to coach again in the league, NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman must be satisfied that Benstiti has met the following conditions: acknowledged wrongdoing and accepted personal responsibility for his inappropriate conduct, participated in training, and demonstrated a sincere commitment to correcting behavior.

As the Joint Investigative Report found, Benstiti had instances during the 2020 Challenge Cup and 2021 season where he negatively referenced what players were eating and their weight — culminating in a teamwide speech about diet that led players to submit a formal complaint. That speech included Benstiti saying, “If I see you [eat] snacks, I will kill you.” There were multiple reports as well of players noting that Benstiti mentioned Lindsey Horan by name [referencing his past verbal abuse regarding her weight and diet while at PSG], saying he would do the same thing and “I don’t care if it’s in the paper.”

While Benstiti could theoretically return to the NWSL if he meets those conditions, it is difficult to imagine any team hiring him after the report’s findings.

In addition to individual sanctions on coaches and club staff, the league imposed fines on clubs that allowed this abuse to happen. The Chicago Red Stars ($1.5 million) and Portland Thorns ($1 million) received the stiffest fines. Racing Louisville ($200,000) and the North Carolina Courage ($100,000) also received strong fines for not addressing complaints about Christy Holly and Paul Riley, respectively. They’ll also be required to hire sporting staff distinct from their men’s team.

OL Reign and Gotham FC both received a $50,000 fine with no additional conditions. While no specifics were given around OL Reign’s fine, it’s clear that this was in response to the Joint Investigative Report’s criticism that the Reign hired Benstiti despite public reporting about his prior behavior and didn’t remove him as a head coach faster after an initial issue was raised.

In response to the Joint Investigative Report, OL Reign outlined some of the steps the club has taken to address some of the issues raised in both that report and U.S. Soccer’s report. In late 2021, OL Reign launched an anonymous reporting system, Real Response, for players or staff to report misconduct. They also expanded SafeSport training to all technical and front office staff and strengthened their hiring process to improve vetting procedures. The club is currently hiring an HR & Sport Safety Director and plans to develop a Code of Conduct, launch additional DEI programs, and establish ongoing training to address all types of misconduct.

“These actions are not meant to diminish the pain or trauma players have endured throughout the process but reflects a collective pledge to build systems and an environment in which player safety is paramount to the long-term success of the club,” OL Reign said in a statement at the time.

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