Governor Phil Murphy has called the details of a scathing investigative report alleging systemic abuse of the women’s soccer team he co-owns “disgusting, totally reprehensible and totally unacceptable”.
But the governor declined to comment when asked if he was responsible for the alleged misconduct.
“I haven’t read the entire report, but I’ve read enough and it’s disgusting,” Murphy said at an independent press conference Wednesday morning. “I hope the (National Women’s Football League) takes the lead and puts in place reforms, puts in place measures so that things like this can never happen again.”
The United States Soccer Federation commissioned the investigation after articles published by Athleticism and The Washington Post revealed allegations of sexual harassment and abuse ignored by national football officials. The report was released on Monday and paints a picture of the verbal abuse and sexual misconduct that plagues the culture of the National Women’s Soccer League.
A spokesperson for Gotham FC – Murphy’s football team, formerly known as Sky Blue – said it was reviewing the report and was “indebted” to the players and employees who shared their experiences.
“We are confident that their bravery and the future release of the independent joint NWSL/NWSLPA investigation will usher in player-focused reforms that will continue to improve the safety, well-being and success of our players and employees,” said said the team said in a statement. “The club’s management is committed to working with the NWSL and remains a strong supporter of these reforms.”
The year-long investigation by the United States Soccer Federation, overseen by former acting attorney general Sally Yates, included interviews with 200 people, including first lady Tammy Murphy, another Gotham co-owner.
The 173-page report says investigators found abusive coaches were moved from team to team because league, federation and team officials “failed to identify misconduct and inform others if necessary. It largely focuses on three former coaches, including Christy Holly, who the report said was fired in 2017 as Sky Blue’s head coach.
Tony Novo, the former chief executive of Sky Blue, told investigators the team fired Holly because he was ‘player abusive’ and because Holly ‘had a relationship with a player’, the report said. .
But the team covered up the reasons for Holly’s departure in August 2017, creating what the report calls “an alternate narrative” by issuing a press release thanking Holly for her work and saying the two parties have agreed to part ways.” on good terms”.
The report does not specifically mention the governor or say whether the first lady was aware of the allegations of abuse and misconduct. Holly could not be reached for comment.
After Holly left Sky Blue, he worked for the United States Soccer Federation, then was hired in August 2020 to coach Racing Louisville, Kentucky’s women’s soccer team. One of the owners of the Louisville team told The Equalizer in 2020 that he “received a glowing reference from Sky Blue’s ownership” about Holly.
After reading this, Sky Blue’s CFO emailed the Murphys and Steven Temares – the Bed Bath & Beyond executive who co-owns the team with the Governor and First Lady – to say she “definitely did NOT give it a glowing review” and asked if any of them had spoken to the owners of Racing Louisville.
The report does not say whether the Murphys responded. But Temares told investigators he gave “what could be considered a positive referral, but it would be in the eye of the beholder,” the report said.
While coaching the Louisville team, Holly sent a player sexually explicit photos and demanded others in return and groped her in public, according to the report. In another instance, the player said Holly forced her to watch a video of a football game and groped her every time she made a bad pass in the video, according to the report.
Holly was let go from Racing Louisville in August 2021 after an investigation confirmed his inappropriate relationship with the players and his “unacceptable behavior”. The team has not publicly provided a reason.
Player Holly is accused of assaulting told investigators she wanted to remain anonymous but “felt that encrypted public messaging put others at risk,” according to the report. She “remains concerned” that due to the lack of transparency Holly is “still out there” and could coach football again, the report said.
Holly told investigators he admitted to sending and soliciting sexual photos from a player, but denied any sexual conduct while coaching Racing Louisville.
Murphy, a Democrat who has owned the team since 2006, praised the “brave women” who came forward to tell their stories. He noted that his family bought the team “because of our daughter…and that’s why we’re going to stay there.”
This isn’t the first time Sky Blue has faced a backlash during Murphy’s tenure as governor. In 2018, former players said they lived in squalor, with plastic bags for windows, ice baths in 50-gallon bins and facilities with no showers.
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