National Women’s Soccer League’s interim CEO Marla Messing said the league has agreed in principle to meet the eight demands set forth by the NWSL Players Association.
In the wake of reports detailing instances of verbal abuse and sexual coercion by NWSL coaches, the NWSLPA issued a list of eight demands on Oct. 6. Among them were that league personnel voluntarily take part in the union’s investigation of sexual misconduct, and that there be total transparency by the league in terms of other ongoing investigations. The NWSLPA also demanded that it be included in the process for selecting the next commissioner.
Speaking to reporters on a Zoom call just two days after taking on the interim CEO role, Messing indicated that in addition to finding agreement on the eight demands, the league and union will collaborate on a single investigation instead of two separate inquiries. Messing added that the investigation could take as long as nine months to be completed.
“I couldn’t be more pleased about this news as it allows us collectively to move forward with the investigation in a collaborative manner,” Messing said about the agreement. “I want to reiterate that the league has retained [law firm] Covington & Burling to conduct a thorough independent investigation and make recommendations and reforms based on its findings. Covington has been given full access and autonomy to follow the facts, where they may lead. The goal of the NWSL is to be the best women’s soccer league in the world; we must root out these issues, and this behavior in order for us to be in a position to achieve this goal.”
Messing has a long history of involvement in women’s soccer, having served as president and chief executive officer of the 1999 Women’s World Cup. Messing added that she took on the NWSL role at the urging of U.S. Soccer Federation president Cindy Parlow Cone. She said she will act much like a commissioner would, including managing the league office and interacting with the board of governors.
“This is something I care deeply about, and if I can help be catalyst for change, then that’s something that means a lot to me,” she said.
Messing declined to state whether she would want the position full time, saying she preferred to focus on the issues at hand.
“There are a lot of challenges, and right now my mandate is to oversee the investigations, to make sure that institutional change happens, and to run the day-to-day operations of the league, and frankly that is what I’m focused on,” she said. “I want to be successful at accomplishing those things on behalf of the players in the league. And everything else, time will tell.”
Among the tasks that Messing will monitor is the possible sale of the Washington Spirit. Following reports in the Washington Post of a toxic workplace culture, the NWSL investigated the allegations and found violations of the league’s anti-harassment policy. The team was prohibited from taking part in league governance matters and had been given 14 days to respond to the allegations.
But Messing said that because majority owner Steve Baldwin had stated his intention to sell the team, the league unilaterally extended the deadline.
“We’re very hopeful that a sale will take place,” Messing said.
The Spirit players have pushed for Spirit co-owner Y. Michele Kang to purchase the club. When asked if that would happen, Messing stated it was up to Baldwin to decide to whom he would sell his stake.
“Generally I have the goal to have an owner in Washington, D.C., that the players like and respect, and that the players feel has their best interests at heart,” Messing said. “Whether that’s Michele or somebody else, can’t really say. Obviously, Steve Baldwin, it’s up to him to sell the team. The league does have approval over that sale, and so we will be watching it closely.”