U.S. Soccer has suspended the coaching licenses of two Seattle-area youth coaches
U.S. Soccer has confirmed the license suspensions of two coaches at Redmond, Wash.-based Crossfire Premier. KNKX published an investigation last week about allegations of an abusive culture at the elite youth soccer club.
KNKX reporter Grace Madigan explains the latest developments with KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick.
Listen to the conversation above or read the transcript below.
Kirsten Kendrick: Grace, you spent eight months investigating the youth soccer club Crossfire Premier. Your story looked at allegations of abuse by two of the club's coaches, Billy Wiskel and Bernie James. Can you first remind us what you found?
Grace Madigan: Yeah, so there were allegations of racial and sexual harassment, player endangerment and inappropriate touching. And I spoke with over 20 former players, coaches, parents, and other people in the Washington soccer community. And they all kind of detail these allegations. One of the key characters in the story is Justi Baumgardt who was a former Crossfire Premier coach, and she says she personally endured some of the sexual harassment by Bernie James, and witnessed some of the inappropriate touching by Billy Wiskel.
KK: And Baumgardt was a whistleblower here. She reported both of the coaches to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is supposed to help protect athletes nationwide. SafeSport ended its investigation without issuing sanctions, but we have an update.
GM: Yeah, so Baumgardt reached out to me shortly after the publication of the story, saying U.S. Soccer had reached out to her and, saying that they intended on requesting that SafeSport reopen these cases. Shortly after that, Baumgardt got back to me and said SafeSport had, in fact, reached out to her, saying they had officially reopened the cases into Bernie James and Billy Wiskel.
KK: And in addition to that new information, U.S. Soccer has weighed in confirming to you that they suspended their coaching licenses.
GM: In an email, U.S. Soccer confirmed with me that they had suspended James' coaching license back in March of 2022, and that they suspended Wiskel's coaching license immediately after we published our story. It's still unclear what exactly that means for both those coaches' ability to coach and participate in tournaments. So that's something I'm still working on.
KK: So I know you're going to be staying on this story. Are there other questions you want to have answered?
GM: Yeah, I'm really trying to figure out because U.S. Soccer has suspended these licenses, what does that mean for Bernie James and Billy Wiskel's ability to coach? At Crossfire, Wiskel and James both coach teams that play in the Elite Clubs National League or the ECNL. And that league is under U.S. Club Soccer. And so that leads to the question of, what can U.S. Club Soccer do?
Back at the end of January, U.S. Club Soccer issued a new policy, saying any coach whose U.S. Soccer license was suspended would be disqualified. And I reached out to U.S. Club Soccer, following up on that. They responded over email saying that they were "navigating the situation." And I know that both Wiskel and James were coaching teams in the ECNL national tournament, which ended earlier this month.
KK: And I understand that the larger issue of wrongdoing in soccer and holding people accountable is being addressed by the U.S. Women's National Team.
GM: The Athletic reported just this week, more than 100 current and former senior, youth, and extended U.S. national team players, including the 2023 Women's World Cup roster, have signed a letter to Congress outlining concerns they have about the effectiveness of the U.S. Center for SafeSport. And a lot of those concerns in the letter are things that the Yates report highlighted. The Yates report was an investigation that found abuse in the National Women's Soccer League, which is the pro league here in the U.S. Players in that report, who were interviewed for that report, actually said that the misconduct they experienced was normalized when they were playing at the youth level.
KK: All right, Grace, thank you so much.
GM: Thank you.