A professional women’s soccer team owned by Governor Phil Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy is at the center of an explosive abuse investigation that exposed a coach accused of engaging in inappropriate conduct while leading the team and an apparent cover-up of his sexual misconduct.
The independent 172-page report details disturbing sex abuse allegations contained in the investigation’s report and makes recommendations for action to the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).
After athletes reported the abuse to Sky Blue FC, and the club fired Christy Holly, the coach received a “glowing recommendation” before he was hired by another team.
The investigation conducted by former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates suggests that the Governor and his wife covered up the circumstances behind Holly’s departure and a lack of interest among other teams, the National Women’s Soccer League and the United States Soccer Federation in exposing his scandalous behavior.
At the time of Holly’s dismissal in August 2017, the Murphys chose to conceal his misconduct as the true reason for his departure.
This is not Murphy’s only botched handling of sexual misconduct allegations.
In April of last year, the federal Department of Justice issued a scathing 30-page report that concluded women prisoners at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton, are at substantial risk of sexual abuse by staff because systemic deficiencies discourage prisoners from reporting sexual abuse and allow sexual abuse to occur undetected and undeterred.
The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey confirmed that conditions in New Jersey’s prison for women violated the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, resulting in a consent decree with the State of New Jersey and New Jersey Department of Corrections.
“Every prisoner deserves to be safe from sexual assault and other forms of sexual abuse by staff, and to be protected from retaliation for reporting abuse,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who blamed Murphy’s administration for “systemic issues that have plagued the Edna Mahan facility. ”
A state grand jury recently indicted 14 corrections officers who were involved in a January 2021 incident at the Hunterdon County-based prison for women, where inmates were forcibly removed from cells and some were beaten, leaving two of the victims severely injured.
One inmate was punched almost 30 times by one officer while being extracted by a five-person team, despite no apparent provocation or physical resistance from her, the investigation found. Other officers restrained the victim while the assault was happening, at times grabbing her hair or shoving her. She was taken to a hospital suffering from headaches, nausea, and vomiting, and doctors found she had a concussion.
Another victim, after her extraction despite the fact that she had complied with orders to be handcuffed, was covered with blood and her right eye was swollen shut. She was transported to Hunterdon Medical Center where doctors discovered her skull was broken around her eye. Boot marks were also discovered on her body.
Murphy knew about that attack, but he did nothing for two weeks until the Star-Ledger and NJ.com broke the story, which created a political embarrassment for the multi-millionaire politician.
A bipartisan legislative committee also determined that the Governor mishandled the accusation by one administration staffer against another who claimed that she was raped during Murphy’s 2017 campaign.
Despite the claim that Al Alvarez raped Katie Brennan, they were both hired to six-figure jobs in the Murphy administration, which resulted in a lawsuit that cost taxpayers $1 million in May 2020.
Holly advanced through the Sky Blue organization despite a “marked lack of experience,” according to the report.
Holly became head coach in three years, despite never holding the requisite license to be a head coach in the NWSL, after starting as a part-time volunteer reserve team trainer mostly involved with youth.
After moving up the ranks in Murphy’s team, Sky Blue FC, he went on to secure a job with at Racing Louisville, where he sexually abused an athlete, Erin Simon.
Simon, who now plays in Europe, told investigators Holly’s misconduct started with “harmless dirty jokes” and quickly escalated to inappropriate text messages. Holly allegedly sent Simon nude pictures of himself and requested she do the same.
Simon alleges that in the lead-up to her joining Racing Louisville in 2020, Holly invited her to his house to watch game film.
According to the 28-year-old, Holly instead showed her pornography, touched her, and told her he “wanted to have a threesome with her and another former player.” Simon said she attempted to leave, but Holly then began “masturbating in front of her and forced her to touch his penis.”
Simon said the abuse continued after she officially joined the team.
The report recounts another one-on-one screening session in April 2021, when Simon claims Holly again invited her to watch game film with him and allegedly told her that for every pass she messed up, he was going to touch her. Simon told investigators Holly “pushed his hands down her pants and up her shirt.”
In August 2017, Holly was asked to resign from Sky Blue in the middle of his second year as Head Coach of the club.
Sky Blue General Manager Tony Novo told investigators Holly’s resignation was necessary after repeated complaints by players regarding Holly’s verbal and emotional abuse, and because of Holly’s relationship with the then-team captain Christie Pearce Rampone had become so toxic and disruptive that he had “lost the locker room.”
The details of Holly’s resignation were not shared with Racing Louisville leadership or the NWSL prior to his hiring in Louisville, according to the report.
The King & Spalding all-women investigative team included Laura Harris, TaCara Harris, Amy Hitchcock, Jamie Lang, Jeanne Fugate, Marisa Maleck, Jennifer Guest, Emily Chen, Heather Saul, Ashley Cordero, Erin Sullivan, Lauren Devendorf, Micha Nandaraj Gallo, and Grace Rodriguez.
Teams, the NWSL, and USSF not only repeatedly failed to respond appropriately when confronted with player reports and evidence of abuse, they also failed to institute basic measures to prevent and address it.
As a result, abusive coaches moved from team to team, with positive references from teams that obscured the misconduct. Those at the NWSL and USSF in a position to correct the record stayed silent. And no one at the teams, the NWSL, or USSF demanded better of coaches.
“The U.S. Soccer Federation has taken an important step forward in undertaking this independent investigation and making good on its promise of transparency by publicly releasing the report,” said Sally Yates, who led the investigation. “Our investigation revealed that abuse in the NWSL is not simply about one team, one coach, or one player. It is not even just about the League. Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture in women’s soccer that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players. The players who have come forward to tell their stories have demonstrated great courage. It’s now time that the institutions that failed them in the past listen to the players and enact the meaningful reform players deserve.”
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