NWSL investigation: Portland Thorns trainer wrongly gave players codeine; coach Kris Ward banned for abuse

The National Women’s Soccer League provided an update involving investigations into Portland Thorns FC and Washington Spirit on Tuesday, and with that came corrective actions as a result of the findings, separate from the league’s joint team investigations announced earlier in January. Several individuals have been terminated and some are ineligible for employment in the league as a result, with Portland Thorns’ coach Pierre Soubrier found to have given codeine to players without a prescription, while former Washington Spirit manager Kris Ward is banned from the league for abuse. and misconduct, pending reinstatement from the commissioner.

The league engaged third-party attorneys in November 2022 to investigate several employees accused of multiple allegations during the Portland Thorns’ playoff run. Allegations of inappropriate and unwanted physical contact, player safety, and instances where controlled substances were administered to players without consent were investigated.

Additionally, player concerns were reported to the league regarding assistant coach Sophie Clough in November 2022, when she allegedly made a player feel uncomfortable by kissing her neck at the team’s championship celebration in Washington, D.C. Third-party investigators found the claims of unwanted contact were substantiated in violation of league policy, the league stated. But claims of bullying behavior were unsubstantiated.

Investigators also found that Thorn’s athletic trainer, Soubrier, administered medicine containing codeine to multiple players without a prescription and physician supervision, which is a violation of federal and state laws and league policy, the league said. Soubrier was also found to have administered the medication to one of the players without her informed consent.

In regards to the Washington Spirit, concerns were raised about the behavior of former head coach Kris Ward concerning verbal abuse and emotional misconduct during a training session. Investigators found that these allegations were substantive. Ward was found to have engaged in overly aggressive behavior and harassment through negative racial stereotyping towards a player in violation of league policy. He was let go by the club last year.

The following sanctions have been issued by the league.

Portland Thorns

Soubrier: The NWSL suspended Soubrier without pay immediately through the conclusion of the 2023 season. The league will also report Soubrier to the Oregon Board of Athletic Trainers (Oregon Board) and the Board of Certification (BOC). The Portland Thorns have terminated his employment. His employment in the league will be subject to the ruling and requirements of the Oregon Board of Athletic Trainers and the Board of Certification and will be eligible for future employment in the league at the commissioner’s discretion. There must be an acknowledgment of wrongdoing and acceptance of personal responsibility for his conduct with a sincere commitment to correcting his behaviour.

Clow: The NWSL suspended Clough without pay immediately through the conclusion of the 2023 season. The Portland Thorns have taken a further step and terminated her employment. Clough will be eligible for future employment in the league at the commissioner’s discretion. She must participate in training related to discrimination, harassment, and bullying, demonstrate a clear commitment to correcting behavior, acknowledge wrongdoing and accept personal responsibility for improper conduct.

Brianne Brown: Thorne’s team physician, Dr. Breanne Brown, will be subject to increased oversight and regular reporting to the NWSL chief medical officer for three months. At the conclusion of that period, the officer will provide an assessment to the commissioner. Dr. Brown will also be required to review the American Medical Association Code of Ethics.

Washington Spirit

Chris Ward: The Spirit previously terminated Ward during the 2022 season. Ward is ineligible to work in the league at any capacity unless or until approved by the commissioner. In order to be eligible for future employment in the NWSL, Ward must participate in mandatory training related to discrimination, harassment, bullying, and racial bias, demonstrate a sincere commitment to correcting his behavior, acknowledge wrongdoing, and accept personal responsibility for inappropriate conduct.

What’s next

The league is officially in the second step (corrective actions) of its three-pronged approach to the NWSL ecosystem. The third step, systemic reform, goes hand-in-hand with step two. During its first decade of existence, the league was established with few checks and balances, near-non-existent policies or appropriate channels for players to report misconduct in their playing environments. Many of those resources now exist, including a collective bargaining agreement that was ratified by the players ahead of the 2022 season.

The multiple corrective actions that the league has issued over the last month are just the early product of policies and procedures finally put into place. As the league continues to take its first steps into the next decade of existence, there will likely be more reports that it can spawn more investigations because policy needs the opportunity to produce a change for the league trying to move forward. The league’s new willingness to provide transparency with player safety in mind — followed by corrective action — is hopefully the steps needed for systemic reform.

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