Coach of NWSL's Red Stars resigns days after championship loss amid report of emotional abuse

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BRIDGEVIEW, IL - OCTOBER 20: Rory Dames head coach of the Chicago Red Stars is interviewed by the media during a game between Portland Thorns FC and Chicago Red Stars at SeatGeek Stadium on October 20, 2019 in Bridgeview, Illinois. (Photo by Daniel Bartel/ISI Photos/Getty Images).
Rory Dames is the fifth NWSL coach this season to face allegations of misconduct. (Daniel Bartel/ISI Photos/Getty Images).

Two days after his Chicago Red Stars lost the NWSL championship game to the Washington Spirit, head coach Rory Dames has resigned. 

The resignation of the 11-year Red Stars coach wasn't related to Saturday's outcome. It arrived hours before the publication of a Washington Post report detailing years of allegations of emotional abuse by Red Stars players. 

According to the Post, seven players including U.S. Women's National Team forward Christen Press told the publication that Dames regularly berated and emotionally abused players and sought inappropriate relationships with some. 

“I think Rory emotionally abuses players,” Press, who played for the Red Stars from 2014-17, wrote in a formal complaint obtained by the Post. “He doesn’t have a safe distance between himself and his players. He uses his power and status as the coach to manipulate players and get close to them.”

Press: Ex-U.S. Soccer president dismissed concerns

The Post reports that Press filed her complaint in 2018 to U.S. Soccer, which oversees all levels of soccer in the country. She told the Post that she'd "been told to be quiet, that this was fine" in response to her formal complaint. 

Press also said that she'd raised concerns about Dames with then-U.S. soccer president Sunil Gulati as early as 2014. She told the Post that Gulati dismissed her concerns at the time, calling Dames' behavior expected of a professional coach. Gulati declined comment to the Post, citing an ongoing U.S. Soccer investigation into the allegations.

Soccer Football - Women's International Friendly - France v USA - Stade Oceane, Le Havre, France - April 13, 2021  Christen Press of the U.S. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Christen Press, seen here with the USWNT, spoke openly about allegations against Dames. (Reuters/Benoit Tessier)

Dames steps down, citing 'family and future endeavors'

The Post reports that it approached the Red Stars on Sunday with the player complaints and received a response from a team spokesperson promising an “independent review of player health and safety and the team’s work culture.” The Red Stars announced hours later that Dames had resigned alongside a statement from Dames. 

"Effective today, I'm refocusing my attention to my family and future endeavors, and I am resigning as coach of the Chicago Red Stars," Dames' statement reads. 

The Red Stars also addressed Dames' resignation in a statement attributed to the team. 

"We continually evaluate our team and front office environment, and given the dynamic change underway in the league, it is time to begin the next chapter of the Red Stars with a search for new leadership of the team," the statement reads. 

Monday's is the latest in an NWSL season rocked by scandal, with Dames becoming the fifth coach in 2021 facing misconduct allegations.

What Dames is accused of

One player who chose to remain anonymous described an "emotionally abusive" relationship with Dames in which she said that her coach made regular comments about her appearance and frequently texted her as late as 11:30 p.m. She said that he pressured her into spending time with him outside of their coach-player relationship, including regular invitations to lunch and dinner. 

“I felt like I didn’t have the option to say no,” she said.

That player told the Post that Dames retaliated when she eventually put up boundaries and that he benched her for preseason games and demoted her in practice when she developed a relationship with a serious boyfriend. 

“He would take me out of trainings altogether,” she said. “I would leave the trainings bawling. ... “It was two weeks of hell.”

Multiple players told the Post that Dames regularly used information about players' ethnicities and backgrounds to launch personal attacks. Players told the Post that he called a player from the Appalachian Mountains "trailer trash" and joked that an Asian player should be smarter than she demonstrated on the field.

Players told the Post that they feared Dames would trade them in retaliation if they criticized him and that they withheld personal information from the coach to deny him fodder for his alleged personal attacks and vendettas.

“I realized that this man would use information he has about me in a way that will harm me, and in a way that he can manipulate me,” an anonymous player told the Post. “I don’t want him to know about the things that matter most to me.”

Press told the Post that she felt compelled to speak out amid complaints from multiple players that Dames was manipulative and sought to assert control over players' careers and personal lives.

“He asserts control like you’re a little girl, not an adult woman," Press said. "When you can go out to a concert, when you can say something or you can’t say something, when you can see your family. It felt like it’s a disrespect that is related to gender.”

The Post also cited players who had praised Dames outside the context of the allegations against him, including current Red Stars player Morgan Gautrat, who said of Dames after Saturday's championship game that "he's glue that’s held this team together. ... He’s pushed us and at the same time, he’s made people better.”

Press: 'Nobody cares' about player complaints

Multiple players who spoke with the Post said they were discouraged by U.S. Soccer's investigation into the allegations and that they hadn't heard from the organization despite their desire to speak on the record. The Post also reports that Red Stars majority owner Arnim Whisler was aware of the complaints about Dames and the U.S. Soccer investigation in 2018. He didn't respond to a request for comment from the Post.

“I was terrified of what Rory would do and say if he found out this was something I’d said,” Press told the Post. “And then I was made to feel by U.S. Soccer that I was in the wrong, there was nothing to report, and that this was acceptable.”

“For so many women in this league, you think you don’t have any worth. And if you stand up and you say what you think is right or wrong, nobody cares.”

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