Gov. Phil Murphy said he hopes the National Women’s Soccer League will put reforms in place “so that stuff like this could never, ever happen again.” (Courtesy of the New Jersey Governor's Office)
Gov. Phil Murphy called the details in a scathing investigative report alleging systemic abuse of the women’s soccer team he co-owns “disgusting, completely reprehensible, and completely unacceptable.”
But the governor declined to comment when asked whether he bears any responsibility for the alleged misconduct.
“I’ve not read the entirety of the report, but I’ve read enough of it and it’s disgusting,” Murphy said at an unrelated news conference Wednesday morning. “I hope the (National Women’s Soccer League) will get out ahead of this and will put reforms in place, put steps in place so that stuff like this could never, ever happen again.”
The U.S. Soccer Federation commissioned the investigation after stories published by The Athletic and The Washington Post revealed allegations of harassment and sexual abuse ignored by national soccer officials. The report was released Monday and paints a picture of verbal abuse and sexual misconduct running rampant in the culture of the National Women’s Soccer League.
A spokesperson for Gotham FC — Murphy’s soccer team, formerly known as Sky Blue — said it is reviewing the report and is “indebted” to the players and employees who shared their experiences.
“We are confident that their courage, and the future publication of the independent NWSL/NWSLPA joint investigation, will usher in player-focused reforms that will continue to enhance the safety, well-being, and success of our players and employees,” the team said in a statement. “Club leadership is committed to working with the NWSL and remains a strong advocate for those reforms.”
The yearlong investigation by the U.S. 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 when necessary.” It largely focuses on three former coaches, including Christy Holly, who the report says was fired in 2017 as head coach of Sky Blue.
Tony Novo, the now-former Sky Blue general manager, told investigators the team fired Holly because he was “abusive to players” and because Holly “had a relationship with a player,” the report says.
But the team concealed the reasons for Holly’s departure in August 2017, creating what the report calls “another narrative” by issuing a press release thanking Holly for his work and saying both sides agreed to part ways “on good terms.”
The report does not mention the governor specifically and does not say whether the first lady knew about the allegations of abuse and misconduct. Holly could not be reached to comment.
After Holly left Sky Blue, he worked for the U.S. Soccer Federation and then was hired in August 2020 to coach Racing Louisville, the women’s soccer team in Kentucky. One of the Louisville team’s owners told The Equalizer in 2020 that he was “given a glowing reference from Sky Blue 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 “certainly did NOT give him a glowing review” and asked whether any of them had spoken to Racing Louisville’s owners.
The report does not say whether the Murphys responded. But Temares told investigators he gave “what could be considered a positive reference, but it would be in the ‘eye of the beholder,’” the report says.
While coaching Louisville’s team, Holly would send a player sexually explicit photos and demand others in return and grope her in public, the report says. In another instance, the player said Holly forced her to watch a video of a soccer game and groped her every time she made a bad pass in the video, according to the report.
Holly was fired from Racing Louisville in August 2021 after an investigation substantiated his inappropriate relationship with players and “unacceptable behavior.” The team didn’t provide a reason publicly.
The player Holly is accused of assaulting told investigators she wanted to remain anonymous, but “felt that the cryptic public messaging left others unsafe,” according to the report. She “remains concerned” that because of the lack of transparency, Holly is “still out there” and may be able to coach soccer again, the report says.
Holly told investigators he admitted sending and soliciting sexual photos to a player but denied any sexual conduct while coach of Racing Louisville.
Murphy, a Democrat who has owned the team since 2006, commended the “brave women” who came forward to tell their stories. He noted his family bought the team “because of our daughter … and that’s why we’re gonna stay in it.”
This isn’t the first time Sky Blue faced backlash during Murphy’s time as governor. In 2018, former players said they were living in squalor, with plastic bags for windows, ice baths in 50-gallon trash cans, and facilities with no showers.
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