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Racing Louisville FC player, former members allege variety of abuses in inaugural season

A current player, 6 former ones and a former staff member detail accounts of alleged emotional, physical and verbal abuse experienced during the team’s debut season.

Tyler Greever

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Published: 6:39 AM EST November 16, 2022
Updated: 7:16 PM EST November 22, 2022

The sports-crazed city of Louisville, Kentucky is home to The Greatest in Muhammad Ali, the longest continuously held major sporting event in the United States in the Kentucky Derby, one of the most famous rivalries in college sports with the University of Louisville vs. the University of Kentucky and Louisville Slugger baseball bats.

But the Commonwealth of Kentucky had not been home to a top-tier professional sports team since 1976. That was the last year of the Bluegrass State’s beloved basketball being in the pro ranks with the American Basketball Association’s Kentucky Colonels.

Louisville native Emina Ekic has always taken pride in that history. So, when the University of Louisville alum learned the National Women’s Soccer League’s newest franchise in Racing Louisville FC, Kentucky’s first top-tier pro sports team since the Colonels, drafted her in 2021, she couldn’t hold her excitement.

“I was genuinely so excited for this opportunity to stay in my hometown, to build something in my hometown, to be there from the start, the very beginning of the club, to build something great,” Ekic said.

Instead, what she and others experienced in the club’s inaugural season fell well short of that.

"It had to escalate to the worst possible thing for us to be sitting here and talking about it, recognizing everything that's happened and what the club did was wrong," Ekic said.

Credit: Alyssa Newton, WHAS11
Friday, October 1, 2021 | Fans at Lynn Family Stadium show support for Racing Louisville FC players after game postponed amid sexual harassment, misconduct allegations against former NWSL coach.

­­Ekic, six former Racing players and one former staff member allege current club president James O’Connor, former president Brad Estes and the rest of the front office helped foster a toxic culture and environment. They allege it allowed former head coach Christy Holly to sexually abuse former Racing and current Leicester City Football Club defender Erin Simon. They also allege it enabled him, and other former and current members of the club, to abuse other players emotionally, physically, and verbally.

In addition to a current player in Ekic, the seven former club members who spoke to WHAS11 are:

  • Former Racing captain and current New Jersey/New York Gotham FC goalkeeper Michelle Betos
  • Reading Football Club defender Brooke Hendrix
  • Houston Dash defender Julia Ashley
  • Celtic Football Club forward Taylor Otto
  • SF Damaiense forward Jorian Baucom
  • Former Racing forward Vanessa Kara
  • Former Racing director of player experience Brynn Sebring

An independent investigation into the U.S. Soccer Federation and NWSL, led by former United States Attorney General Sally Yates, revealed the cause for why Racing fired Holly was his alleged sexual abuse of Simon. Everyone who spoke to WHAS11 believes it only touched on the other types of alleged abuses Holly committed and did not detail those committed by others.

Sebring and the players named former Racing director of high performance Brianne Brown as having a problematic power dynamic with Holly. In addition, some players cited current Louisville City FC analyst and former Racing assistant coach Gary Curneen, as well as former volunteer coach Clifton Bush for alleged emotional and verbal abuse.

All former members of Racing who spoke to WHAS11 think O’Connor, along with anyone else who did not do enough to properly address or listen to their concerns, should no longer be with the organization. They said the issues started from the very beginning.

“No member of staff or any person with any visibility into the team’s daily operations did enough to protect our players,” Sebring, who included herself in that group, wrote in a statement before doing a Zoom interview for this story.

Editor’s note: WHAS11 reached out to all parties named in this story as well as the NWSL and NWSLPA. The only response was from Racing Louisville FC. You can read it here: 

We are fully cooperating with the NWSL/NWSL PA joint and independent investigation. We will refrain from commenting on U.S. Soccer’s Yates report to protect the ongoing investigation’s integrity.

We are committed to building a positive work environment where athletes can flourish. Racing Louisville FC and Soccer Holdings are pledging to positive change that addresses any workplace concerns, improves our culture, and allows athletes to achieve their full potential. The club is striving to build an inclusive, safe environment which makes players and fans proud.

Since terminating former coach Christy Holly in August 2021, we have taken the following steps to help foster an improved environment:

In conjunction with the NWSL, 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 and provide feedback on potential new coaching hires.

In addition to recommendations of the ongoing NWSL/NWSLPA joint investigation, we commit to these changes to further build our culture and ensure the well-being of our players and staff:

Opening 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.

Adding 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.

Updated 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.

Forming an internal committee to regularly meet with our players to garner feedback.

Scheduling town hall events for season ticket members to share their input.

It is our hope that these efforts lead to the positive change we all want to see. We will listen, learn and act to ensure we maintain the best possible environment for players.

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