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National Women's Soccer League union president talks next steps


On the eve of the national women's soccer championship game, we wanted to check in on what has been a tumultuous season. Back in September, The Athletic reported that several former players were accusing Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley of sexual harassment and coercion. Riley was fired. He denies the allegations. One day later, the league commissioner, Lisa Baird, resigned. Well, the players have created a list of demands - eight of them - to improve safety and transparency. The league has agreed to those demands, but both sides say it's just the first step.

Joining me to talk about next steps is Tori Huster. She's president of the National Women's Soccer League Players Association. She's also a midfielder for the Washington Spirit, who are facing off against the Chicago Red Stars tomorrow for the title.

Hi there. Welcome.

TORI HUSTER: Hi. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: I guess I should start by saying congratulations to your team on making it to the finals. That's great.

HUSTER: Thank you.

KELLY: Has it been hard to keep everybody's mind on the field through what has been quite a season?

HUSTER: Gosh, it has. It has been a roller coaster of emotions from start to finish. Yeah, it's been difficult to not let some of these off-field situations distract us from on the field. But we've managed.

KELLY: To the point I just made, saying - both sides saying this is the first step, what's the next step? What still remains to be done?

HUSTER: So when, back in September, we made our eight demands, which - we have had those demands met, all eight of them. But some of these demands - if you read them, they're going to require some time. And I think one of the biggest demands - the first demand is having a league-wide investigation, and that's going to be ongoing for a while. But we do have a seat on the oversight committee for that investigation, which is kind of unheard of.

KELLY: I'm curious about power and potential power imbalances and how they may factor in here. What role does money play in this story? And I guess I'm asking because I'm looking and seeing 75% of the players in the league make $31,000 a year or less.

HUSTER: I think that is the power imbalance right there. We don't make a lot of money. A lot of us play for the love of the game. A lot of us have feared in leagues past, in years past that if they speak up, it could come to the detriment of the league. The league could fold like the WPS did...

KELLY: Yeah.

HUSTER: ...When players came and spoke up. We really don't have that agency to speak up for ourselves until now. I think that has changed. I think we understand that we are the league. We are the players of the league, and we can determine the direction that the league should head and is heading.

KELLY: So may I ask how you're feeling about how things stand? Are you feeling empowered, vindicated, still really mad, all of the above?

HUSTER: All of the above. It comes and goes in waves, different emotions. I am so impressed and proud of the work that we have done this year. It has been just a pivotal year for us in a number of ways. And I think we don't have that pivot and that success without the larger engagement from the wider player pool. We were able to really, you know, put our voice out there in determining what was going to be the best next step and what was best for the players.

KELLY: Tori Huster. She is a midfielder for the Spirits and president of the National Women's Soccer League Players Association.

Thank you - great to talk to you.

HUSTER: Yeah, thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE'S "WEDDINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.