Racing Louisville FC fan

Louisville City Football Club fans protest Racing Louisville FC ownership amid a sex abuse scandal in women's soccer during a game on Oct. 5, 2022.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Racing Louisville Football Club on Thursday morning issued a wide-ranging statement in response to findings from a report commissioned by the National Women's Soccer League and its players association Wednesday, apologizing for putting players at risk in the hiring and continued employment of Christy Holly and for its actions in striking a non-disparagement agreement with the coach upon his termination.

The club defended its fast action — in the face of a request from the league to slow down — once it learned that Holly, who was hired to be the club's first coach, had sexually harassed then-player Erin Simon over a period of years (even pre-dating their association with Racing Louisville). The club also explained its post-termination agreement with Holly in terms of following the wishes of Simon that her name not become public, though it acknowledged in its statement, "in hindsight, that was the wrong decision."

The club did not immediately respond to the new report Wednesday, as it digested the investigation's findings and consulted with the NWSL on its public statement.

 "To our players, past and present, we are sorry for what happened during Christy Holly's tenure," the statement reads. "We take responsibility for what happened, and we pledge to ensure a better team culture moving forward. Our athletes should never have been put in this situation. We take responsibility for hiring Christy Holly, and we deeply regret not having a more stringent vetting process in place, something we have since corrected."

The club said it cooperated with the joint investigation and has taken steps to address issues within its organization.

To specific criticisms within the report, the club speaks at length.

"As it relates to the separation agreement and non-disparagement language mentioned in the report, it was never our intent to hinder any investigation or stop any player from speaking out," the club's statement reads. "In fact, we applaud every player who has told her story publicly. On advice of the club's former counsel, we entered the agreement with Holly to protect our players from being named publicly as the events were unfolding. Although the motives were born out of what we perceived to be in the best interests of the players and in the interest of expediting the dismissal of Holly, we recognize in hindsight that was the wrong decision. Our current team president was not involved with crafting the NDA, and we strongly support the league severely restricting their use."

The final reference is to James O'Connor, who has come under fire from fans in the wake of the Racing Louisville scandal. O'Connor was a successful coach of Louisville City FC before moving into his executive position in the team's back office.

His statement on the day after Holly's firing, when asked if any of Holly's actions had been criminal in nature, enraged fans and players once the truth of the matter was known.

"It's a great question," O'Connor said. "I don't know whether I'd say illegal. That's a subject of viewpoint, if you like, depending on who's asking and different people. I'll plead the fifth. I'll take the attorney line on that. ... On a personal level, would I love to be able to tell you all? Yes I would. But unfortunately, not just in this business, but in most industries, when you have things like this you can't."

In private, to the team's players, a night earlier, the leadership of the club was similarly vague. The joint investigation talked to several players who said they were confused about the actual reason for Holly's termination, and several remembered the phrase "inappropriate relationship" being used.

The club's statement did not address that meeting specifically but it did address another meeting, in June 2021, after several players had gone to management to complain about Holly's treatment of players on various issues, from injuries to inconsistent treatment. After Holly's firing, several players said they felt "sold-out" when the club's response was to bring Holly and the players together in the presence of management to talk about the complaints. The result was the coach retaliating against several players who spoke out.

"We take responsibility for failing to fully understand how Holly's treatment of the players was negatively affecting the team and individual athletes," the club's statement reads, in response to that meeting. "Club leadership tried to clear the air between players and the coaching staff by calling this meeting, but in retrospect, this should have been handled differently. For that, we apologize and have learned from the situation. If individual players were retaliated against by Holly, we apologize. We have made clear to the new coaching staff that retaliation will not be tolerated. We expect every player to be treated with respect, and we now have the ability to actively monitor this kind of issue with the implementation of the RealResponse system, a tool for players to anonymously communicate problems they are having."

The club went into some detail over steps it has taken in the aftermath of the Yates report and its experience with Holly. It asserted it has "cleaned house" and that "the staff and culture of Racing Louisville from 2021 is not the staff and culture of today." From the report:

  • Provided company-wide access to RealResponse, the leading safe and secure feedback, monitoring and anonymous reporting platform for athletic teams and organizations.
  • Required all employees to participate in SafeSport training, which includes abuse awareness and prevention guidance.
  • In conjunction with the NWSL, created a more thorough, exhaustive vetting process for coaching hires responsible for assembling Racing Louisville's current staff. Moving forward, players will also have the opportunity to speak to potential new coaching hires.
  • Opened the search for a Racing Louisville general manager position to oversee day-to-day team operations with a goal toward improving on and off the field. Duties include oversight of performance, player recruitment and compliance while providing support and insight for players and staff.
  • Added a new assistant coach to the Racing technical staff. This coach will liaise directly with players on their individual development plans while also working with staff on coaching objectives.

The report also lists steps the club will implement in the future, including the following:

  • Working with the NWSL, updating company-wide anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies and practices to address specific issues facing our industry, including training programs to be run by an accredited third-party resource.
  • Making available psychologists and chaplains to our players, should they need or want counseling for anything happening on or off the soccer field.
  • Scheduling town hall events for season ticket members to share their input directly with team officials.

"It is vital the Louisville community knows the compassion we feel for our players and the steps of accountability and healing we are taking as an organization," the statement reads. "Racing Louisville FC — and everyone involved in women's soccer — must do better to protect and support these world-class athletes. We want our team to understand how seriously we take the results of this investigation and that we are committed to providing a work environment in which everyone can be proud and feel safe."

Whether that will be enough to satisfy angry fans remains to be seen. The club took no action against O'Connor, and made a point to include him as the implementor of many of the changes now under way.

"It is our hope these efforts being undertaken by team president James O'Connor and the new coaches and personnel lead to the positive change we all want to see," the statement reads. "We will continue to listen, learn and act to ensure the best possible environment for players. We are excited about what the future holds for our team, both on the field and as a matter of providing a work environment of which our athletes, staff and community stakeholders can be proud."

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