“Immediately after we released Sally Yates’s independent report, our Board and staff got to work on plans to implement the report’s recommendations and advance safeguarding initiatives that build a culture of participant-centered safety and trust across our sport,” said U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone. “Thanks to the many athletes and experts who jumped into the critical work of protecting everyone in our game, we have made substantial progress. While we have much more work ahead, I believe the steps we’re sharing today will make our game significantly safer and I look forward to seeing it through.”
A key element of the Federation’s plan is the new “Safe Soccer” program, which will redefine the processes and criteria used to determine eligibility to participate in soccer in the United States by creating a thorough, continuous vetting system that will simultaneously prohibit bad actors from participating in our sport while identifying high-quality individuals. This will transform U.S. Soccer’s approach from simply “red-lighting” bad actors after an incident has happened, to “green-lighting” them before they begin participating in the sport, which will prevent potentially bad actors from ever having a role in soccer. The program will include safety training, annual verification of background and contact information and background checks. Compliance with the new program will be a multi-year journey, first being piloted by U.S. Soccer staff and select members before expanding to U.S. Soccer licensed coaches and referees, and later to all adult participants in the soccer ecosystem.
“On behalf of the entire Board, we look forward to seeing the new “Safe Soccer” framework transform our sport by providing increased transparency and visibility into who is participating in our game so we can better protect players,” said Yates Implementation Committee Chair and former U.S. Women’s National Team member Danielle Slaton. “We will work closely with our membership to ensure that the rollout of “Safe Soccer” is smooth, practical and sustainable, and will continue to work with the Participant Safety Taskforce to implement additional safeguarding measures across the soccer ecosystem.”
In response to Sally Yates’s recommendations, the Yates Implementation Committee of the Board of Directors has worked with U.S. Soccer’s Pro League Standards Taskforce to propose amendments to U.S. Soccer’s Pro League Standards, which govern all professional soccer leagues affiliated with U.S. Soccer including Major League Soccer (MLS), the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA), the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), the North American Soccer League (NASL) and United Soccer League (USL). The proposed updates to the Pro League Standards were developed in collaboration with the professional leagues and would mandate additional safeguarding protections including but not limited to:
- Requiring that each professional league and team has a player safety officer responsible for ensuring compliance with player safety standards;
- Requiring professional leagues to provide annual safeguarding reports to U.S. Soccer;
- Ensuring all professional leagues employ dedicated human relations professionals;
- Requiring professional leagues to train coaches and staff on topics such as verbal and emotional abuse, sexual misconduct, harassment and retaliation;
- Requiring professional leagues to conduct annual player feedback surveys;
- Prohibiting the use of non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements used to shield information about abuse allegations; and
- Requiring all professional leagues to report any allegations of misconduct or issues of abuse to the Federation in a timely manner.
U.S. Soccer expects these amendments to the Pro League Standards to be voted on and finalized by U.S. Soccer’s Board of Directors during U.S. Soccer’s Annual General Meeting (“AGM”) on March 16-17, 2023.
On a parallel path to U.S. Soccer, the NWSL is implementing systemic reform ahead of the start of their 2023 season. U.S. Soccer and the NWSL have also collaborated to implement many of the Yates recommendations.
The specific actions U.S. Soccer has taken or is taking in response to each of Sally Yates’s 12 recommendations are listed below.
Yates Recommendation 1:Teams should be required to accurately disclose misconduct to the NWSL and USSF to ensure that abusive coaches do not move from team to team.
- Proposed updates to the Pro League Standards would require disclosure of misconduct and prohibit the use of non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements used to shield information about abuse allegations.
- Moving forward, all adult participants, including coaches, will be required to complete the “Safe Soccer” program, giving U.S. Soccer unprecedented visibility into participants across the soccer ecosystem.
- U.S. Soccer has also published soccer records from SafeSport’s Centralized Disciplinary Database to publicly identify individuals in soccer who are currently subject to SafeSport discipline, suspended or banned.
Yates Recommendation 2:USSF should require meaningful vetting of coaches and, when necessary, use its licensing authority to hold wrongdoers accountable.
- Through the “Safe Soccer” program, U.S. Soccer is implementing new coaching requirements, including USOPC-level background checks, to ensure that coaches and team personnel are properly vetted.
- Under the new program, U.S. Soccer will retain the ability to remove participant licenses where appropriate.
- The new framework will strengthen U.S. Soccer’s licensing program, enabling the Federation to hold coaches accountable for any wrongdoing and keep bad actors out of the sport altogether.
Yates Recommendation 3:USSF should require the NWSL to conduct timely investigations into allegations of abuse, impose appropriate discipline, and immediately disseminate investigation outcomes.
- Proposed updates to the Pro League Standards will include a two-day requirement for all professional leagues, including the NWSL, to report any allegations of misconduct or issues of abuse to the Federation.
Yates Recommendation 4:USSF should adopt uniform and clear policies and codes of conduct that apply to all Organization Members and are found in single place on USSF’s website.
- Immediately following the release of Sally Yates’s report, U.S. Soccer created the Participant Safety Hub on the U.S. Soccer website, which houses a number of participant safety resources, including U.S. Soccer’s Code of Conduct and reporting hotline information.
- The Federation has required all organization members to implement and enforce the Model Minor Athlete Abuse Prevention Policy and Model Prohibited Conduct Policy for all participants within their organizations.
Yates Recommendation 5:USSF should require the NWSL to conduct annual training for players and coaches on applicable policies governing verbal and emotional abuse, sexual misconduct, harassment, and retaliation.
- Proposed updates to the Pro League Standards include mandatory trainings on verbal and emotional abuse, sexual misconduct, harassment and retaliation.
- U.S. Soccer and the NWSL collaborated on the development of the NWSL’s 2023 training program and plans to provide assistance with the development of training programs to other members moving forward.
Yates Recommendation 6:USSF, the NWSL, and teams should each designate an individual within their organizations who is responsible for player safety.
- U.S. Soccer has established a new Office of Participant Safety, which will take a two-pronged approach to participant safety efforts: 1) prevention – which will include education and training, and 2) reporting and response – which will oversee U.S. Soccer’s conduct policies and reporting mechanisms.
- Proposed updates to the Pro League Standards would 1) mandate that all professional leagues and teams have a player safety officer responsible for ensuring compliance with player safety standards, 2) mandate that professional leagues provide annual safeguarding reports to the Federation and 3) require that leagues have a distinct Human Resources position.
- U.S. Soccer has committed to sharing annual safeguarding reports with the public.
Yates Recommendation 7:USSF should strengthen player safety requirements in professional leagues.
- Proposed updates the Pro League Standards would add new enforcement provisions that would allow the Federation to place leagues and teams on probation and levy fines for non-compliance with participant safety standards. Any fines levied against teams or leagues would go to a participant safety fund and support related initiatives.
Yates Recommendation 8:USSF should require the NWSL to implement a system to annually solicit and act on player feedback.
- Proposed updates to the Pro League Standards would require professional leagues to conduct annual player feedback surveys within four weeks of the end of the season. The Standards would mandate that the annual surveys include questions on coaching conduct and that leagues must share anonymized results with the relevant teams and individuals.
- The proposed updates to the Pro League Standards also include a requirement for leagues to provide the complete survey results to the U.S. Soccer Office of Participant Safety, identify to U.S. Soccer any surveys that raise issues of abuse or retaliation and provide a plan of action to address those issues.
- Following the 2022 NWSL season, U.S. Soccer collaborated with the NWSL to develop a list of required questions for inclusion on their player feedback survey.
- Moving forward, U.S. Soccer intends to work with other professional leagues on their player feedback surveys as well.
Yates Recommendation 9:USSF should collaborate with its youth member organizations and other stakeholders to examine whether additional measures are necessary to protect youth players.
- Immediately following the release of Sally Yates’s report, U.S. Soccer established the Participant Safety Taskforce – led by former NWSL player Mana Shim and made up of leaders and experts both inside and outside of soccer – to explore actions that can be taken above and beyond the Yates report’s recommendations, from the youth level all the way up to professional leagues and senior national teams.
- In the youth landscape specifically, the Taskforce is working to launch safety initiatives such as the designation of safeguarding officers and implementation of extensive safety training.
- Additionally, the new “Safe Soccer” program will redefine the processes and criteria used to determine eligibility to participate in soccer in the United States at all levels across the soccer ecosystem, including at the youth level.
Yates Recommendation 10:The NWSL should determine whether discipline is warranted in light of these findings and the findings of the NWSL/NWSLPA Joint Investigation.
- Earlier this month, the NWSL announced corrective actions being taken by the league in light of the Yates report and the findings of the NWSL/NWSLPA Joint Investigation. U.S. Soccer is supportive of the NWSL’s efforts to correct past misconduct in their league.
- U.S. Soccer will continue to collaborate with the NWSL to implement the recommendations of both reports.
Yates Recommendation 11:Teams, the NWSL and USSF should not rely exclusively on SafeSport to keep players safe and should implement safety measures where necessary to protect players in the USSF landscape.
- U.S. Soccer is working directly with SafeSport to improve current response and resolution processes and protect athletes and other participants in the Olympic movement.
- The new “Safe Soccer” program seeks to add additional layers of protection for soccer participants and keep bad actors out of the sport altogether.
Yates Recommendation 12: The Federation should determine the most effective structural mechanism, whether through an existing board committee, special committee or task force, to evaluate and implement recommendations, as well as to consider further reforms in support of player safety.
- Immediately following Sally Yates’ report, U.S. Soccer established the Yates Implementation Committee of the Board of Directors, the Participant Safety Taskforce, and the new Office of Participant Safety.
- The Committee has led efforts to implement the Yates report’s recommendations as laid out in this plan.
- The Taskforce has been working to gather diverse best practices and expertise, identify concerns and risks surrounding relationships with power imbalances and develop educational materials focused on identifying inappropriate behavior.
- U.S. Soccer is actively building out its Office of Participant Safety.
- Moving forward, the Committee will continue to provide input on the work the Taskforce and Office are doing and work with them on implementation of participant safety measures.