Marla Messing promises to bring professionalism to the women’s football league

Marla Messing, a sports executive who was instrumental in the success of the 1999 Women’s World Cup which propelled women’s football into national consciousness, is only days away from her position as Managing Director by interim of the National Women’s Soccer League and already has big ideas, including a possible rebranding of the NWSL, which turns 10 next year.

But first on his agenda, before the league can move forward with any confidence, is to tackle the recent cases of abuse that have brought the league down.

“Let me be crystal clear, our first goal is to get our house in order and make sure we meet the minimum standards of a professional league and tackle the issues. that the players want and deserve us to address, “Messing said. during a video call with reporters on Wednesday, adding that changes needed to be made so that players can “feel valued and safe and feel like they are receiving the respect they deserve.”

These changes could take months, she said, as there is so much to examine to understand how the league got to this low point.

After a series of allegations in recent months that coaches have allegedly abused or sexually harassed players as team and league officials looked away, football officials, league officials, players and owners alike were looking for someone to blame for the mismanagement of the cases. At least five investigations were started by different entities because no one trusted someone else to take over a single investigation.

Investigations focused in part on former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley, who was later accused of sexually abusing two players while coaching them at the Portland Thorns. In 2015, the Thorns fired him for inappropriate behavior, but he continued to coach in the league. Courage fired Riley last month after the charges were made public.

Richie Burke, the former Washington Spirit coach, was fired last month for violating the league’s anti-harassment policy. Another coach, Farid Benstiti, resigned from OL Reign in July amid accusations of verbal abuse.

Multiple cases of abuse led Lisa Baird to resign as NWSL commissioner and the players’ union demanded an immediate change to protect the players. Among its demands, the union demanded the mandatory suspension of any person in a position of power being investigated for abuse, and the transparency of the investigations. On Wednesday, Messing began his video call by announcing that the league is now working with the union to address its concerns.

Later in the call, she said: “It’s only been 72 hours, but I feel really good about the relationship.”

Orlando Pride forward Alex Morgan, a member of the United States national team and one of the league’s biggest stars, said on a teleconference Tuesday that she was encouraged by what representatives union members of his team had told him. Still, she said, the league remains overly responsive in the way it approaches important issues.

“I know there are a lot of things that need to change, but we need to start building that confidence, and at this point it’s just not there yet,” she said.

Trying to find the right person to help build that trust, US Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone called Messing about the interim CEO position, Messing said. This seemed to fit well, considering that Messing already knew so many people in the football world. Messing was the President and CEO of the Organizing Committee for the 1999 Women’s World Cup and was also one of the founders of Major League Soccer.

And she already knew Cone and so many other players on the Women’s National Team personally. Cone played on the US team that won the 1999 Women’s World Cup in front of more than 90,000 fans at the Rose Bowl. This World Cup sparked a craze for girls’ football in the United States – and some of these girls ended up in future national teams and in the NWSL.

For Messing, this story means a lot. And not just because she was part of it. She said she would like to plan something special to celebrate the league’s 10th anniversary next year as it is “a milestone for a women’s football league.”

But first.

“At the moment my mandate is to oversee investigations to make sure institutional change occurs and manage the day-to-day operations of the league,” she said. “And frankly, you know, that’s what I’m focusing on.”

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