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NWSL, NWSLPA joint investigation report lists ‘widespread misconduct’ including Kansas City

Concerns of retaliation raised in the report

Coach Williams during a practice last year
Thad Bell

In the interest of full disclosure, I have known Huw Williams since just prior to FC Kansas City being founded in 2012 and consider him a friend. That friendship will not change what we report.

The long-awaited and dreaded joint NWSL and NWSL Players Association report was released Wednesday. The full 125-page report was the result of a 14-month investigation led by Covington & Burling (independent investigator hired by the NWSL) and Weil (counsel for the NWSLPA).

Like the Sally Yates investigation that issued a report in October, the joint NWSL and NWSLPA report echoed many of the same failures. The Yates report focused mainly on three specific cases in the NWSL; coaches Paul Riley, Rory Dames, and Christy Holly. Yates had indicated that despite other instances of misconduct discovered in the investigation, they released the report because it was more beneficial to release the report in a timely fashion. The NWSL/NWSLPA report was more comprehensive.

“The joint investigation team found that the underlying culture of the NWSL created fertile ground for misconduct to go unreported. Players were frequently reminded of the fragility and financial instability of the league. From the early days of the league, they were told to be grateful, loyal, and acquiescent, even as they were not afforded the resources or respect due to professional athletes. Players told the joint investigative team that this environment dismayed them from reporting misconduct.”

Kansas City concerns

In the Yates report, FC Kansas City was mentioned in regard to facilities and some inappropriate emails by the original owners. The joint NWSL and NWSLPA report ignored the FC Kansas City history but delved into the reported conduct of the Kansas City Current’s former head coach and general manager Huw Williams during their inaugural season.

Williams moved from coaching to a front-office role after the 2021 season where he acted as a scout. Williams also coached the Kansas City Current II team in the WPSL to an 8-0 record with a +49 goal differential.

Sources confirmed to The Blue Testament that he was no longer with the club as of November 2022. The joint report gave a number of new details that were reported to the investigation team.

In the report, it states that in August of 2021, “players at the Current brought concerns to club management about Huw Williams’ ineffectiveness as a coach and his negative and discouraging comments towards players. Players from the team met with club owners Angie and Chris Long, and other club staff, to raise these concerns. Players reported the club did not take sufficient action to address player’s concerns after the meeting. Multiple current and former players from the Current raised concerns that Williams retaliated against players for participating in the meeting with ownership, both by mistreating players who complained and by taking actions to remove them from the club.”

“By the end of the 2021 season, multiple players who had participated in the meeting were traded, waived, or not re-signed. Williams was moved to a front office role at the end of that season.”

The Joint Investigative Team asked to speak to the Current owners and Angie Long was interviewed. Long did not recall any concerns about Williams’s treatment of players being raised at the August 2021 meeting. Long recalled that players shared concerns about the level of training and the team’s poor performance. In the report, Long says she did not indicate that she was concerned about potential retaliation against the players who spoke up at the meeting.

According to the report “multiple current and former players from the Kansas City Current raised concerns that Head Coach Huw Williams retaliated against players for participating in an August 2021 meeting with other club leaders, including club owners Chris and Angie Long.”

The joint report states that players reported they raised concerns during this meeting regarding Williams’ ineffectiveness as a coach and unprofessional and demeaning communication style.

An outline prepared by players for the meeting included concerns about comments made during training. Examples given were “I’m going to ream her ass,” and “you are a pain in my ass,” demeaning player’s abilities, and telling players, “I do this [drill] with my 12-year-olds” and “I do this with my U14s,” which players felt did not afford them respect as professionals.

Angie Long did recall “that players raised concerns about how training and practices were being conducted but did not recall the players raising any concerns about how Williams interacted with players on the team.”

The report states that Williams was not at the meeting but was told by the Longs and a staff member “that players were not happy because the team was not doing well.”

Williams also recalled being told that players were concerned about the amount of training given to non-starters and acknowledged in the report that club leaders also identified to him players who organized the meeting, but he did not know all the players who participated.

According to the report, Williams apologized to the team the day after the meeting, but the players reported that they felt the club did not take action to address players’ concerns after the meeting.

Some players reported that following this meeting, Williams started treating certain players negatively, one player reported that he stopped communicating with her and made efforts to avoid her. Multiple players reported hearing that Williams referred to this player, a leader in the locker room, as “toxic.” Williams reported that he had a good relationship with this player during the season.

Some players who had participated in the meeting or raised concerns about Williams were traded, waived, or not re-signed before the next season. One player recalled that six players spoke during the meeting and only one returned for the next season.

One player who spoke up at the meeting was subsequently traded, she shared that because she and other players spoke up, “[w]e all knew we were going to be traded.” A teammate recalled the player commenting that she would not be surprised if she was traded after the meeting.

One player was waived after the 2021 season had signed a multi-year contract extension with the club before the August meeting.

Angie Long did not recall many details of discussions regarding these player transactions but she did recall discussing one of the transactions with Williams and he offered a soccer-related reason for the transaction.

Williams gave non-retaliatory justifications for the transaction to the Joint Investigative Team. Both Williams and Angie Long recalled searching for a trade partner within the league for one player but having no luck in finding a partner.

In the report when asked about the moves, Williams explained, “We needed to make a lot of changes—we were last [in the League]. . . . The changes we made were to become a better soccer team.”

The Current issued this statement Wednesday evening:

The joint NWSL/NWSLPA report released today is another important step forward in our journey to build a league focused foremost on player health, safety and respect. We’re working together to build a league that our fans are proud to support, and our players are proud to participate in.

We stand with every athlete who has come forward to share their experiences. From day one, our priority to be a player-first organization has guided our decisions every day, at all levels.

In August 2021, as detailed in the report, KC Current ownership met with all players. We understood their concern to be lack of quality training, preparation and player communication. As such, we took the following actions: we addressed performance-related issues related to former employee and then-head coach Huw Williams and started the search for a new head coach.

The club sincerely apologizes to any player who has experienced anything other than our unequivocal player-first environment. At our core, this is who we are. It defines and guides everything we do.

During the offseason, team owners made the decision to overhaul almost the entire technical staff and, in doing so, increased the number of technical professionals from 12 to 18. Notably, the team hired a new Head Coach and General Manager for the 2022 season and revamped the High Performance Group.

Major milestones include opening a world-class training facility in only 11 months; breaking ground on the first purpose-built stadium for a women’s professional soccer team; and creating an environment where every player has the resources they deserve to realize their maximum potential.

The club is committed to improving player safety and support in reporting misconduct of any nature. To that end, the club has provided players with multiple reporting outlets and restructured the organizational chart to create layers of independence. Every decision we make as a club will continue to focus on the advancement of our players, the NWSL and women’s professional soccer.