The world of soccer has recently seen a rise in sexual harassment and assault cases as victims are speaking out in waves against their abusers on a near weekly basis. Most recently, international forward Mason Greenwood, who plays for Manchester United, has been arrested on suspiscion of sexual assault. An audio recording and photographic evidence provided to the media by Harriet Robson via her personal Instagram, who claimed she had been abused by Greenwood, showcased her various bruises, cuts and scars.
Within a few hours of this news reaching the mainstream channels, conversations around Greenwood exploded, with many calling for the immediate release and termination of his contract. Manchester United released a statement after the evidence was released.
“Manchester United reiterates its strong condemnation of violence of any kind,” a spokesperson for Manchester United stated. “As previously communicated, Mason Greenwood will not train with, or play for the club until further notice.”
The footballer was arrested earlier in January on the suspicion he had committed rape and assault, but was released on bail pending a further investigation.
In response to the story breaking, Greenwood’s largest sponsor, Nike, announced they would be cutting ties and refraining from any future endorsements involving him.
Additionally, Manchester United’s partner, Cadbury, who Greenwood had done promotional work for, announced they too would be suspending their relationship with the Englishman. One of the club’s sponsors, DHL, also announced they ended their relationship with him. He was also subsequently removed from all modes of the newest title in the FIFA video game series, FIFA 22.
Greenwood is only one of the many men who have sexual assault allegations against them. In the Netherlands, Marc Overmars has recently stepped down from his position as the sporting director of Ajax. The former Dutch player played with Ajax, Arsenal and FC Barcelona, which elevated him to his status as one of the greatest Dutch footballers in world history, before accepting his position as the sporting director in 2012.
Reports of Overmars stepping down began to surface just after the allegations against Greenwood were released. Chairman Edwin Van Der Sar revealed that Overmars sent explicit messages to female colleagues around the club, creating an uncomfortable work environment and a very clear conflict of interest.
Unlike Greenwood, Overmars issued a statement. “Last week I was confronted with reports about my behavior,” Overmars said. “And how this has come across to others. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that I was crossing the line with this, but that was made clear to me in recent days. For someone in my position, this behavior is unacceptable. I now see that too. But it is too late. I see no other option but to leave Ajax.”
Manchester City left back and French international Benjamin Mendy has multiple allegations against him, with reports claiming that he raped or abused five different women on eight separate occasions from October 2020 to August 2021. Mendy spoke out to deny the initial allegations, until more reports came out and individuals stepped forward.
The Frenchman was arrested in August and held in custody until he was released on bail this past January due to multiple postponements within the cycle of the trial. It was reported that Mendy will most likely have to wear an ankle monitor and remain on house arrest until June.
In the U.S. Timbers midfielder Andy Polo was cited for harassing his wife at their home during an argument that required police intervention in May of last year. While there has not been any confirmation of charges against Polo, his partner, Genesis Alarcon, claimed to have an audio recording of an altercation with him where he issued threats and assaulted her, though that clip has not been released to the public.
Polo had his contract terminated by the Timbers earlier this year in regards to additional details that had surfaced, including images of a black eye and reports of hair-pulling.
Another U.S. team faced allegations in 2015. Portland Thorns head coach Paul Riley attempted to coerce some of his own players into various sexual acts. Notably, Riley had tried to get former players Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly to kiss each other in front of him while with the club, a claim that the two made last year. In addition, the two claimed Riley sent them inappropriate photos and greeted one of his players in only his underwear at a private film session. Farrelly said that Riley attempted the very same thing at a previous club where she had been a player.
Riley was removed from his post with the Thorns following the news, but the inaction on Portland’s part to disclose the reason for his removal led to his hiring by the NC Courage, before he too was fired by the team after news broke in October 2021 of his misconduct in Portland. While the Portland Thorns suspended their general manager Gavin Wilkinson for his failure to protect his players, the call has not been made yet for chairman and owner Merritt Paulson to step down from his post. Social media posts surfaced once The Athletic released their piece on Riley from Paulson praising what Riley had been doing in North Carolina, before they were swiftly deleted from Twitter. Thorns fans responded to the news going public by orchestrating an in-stadium boycott, refusing to purchase concessions or merchandise, and chanting “protect our players” for the duration of an entire match.
It’s clear that sexual harassment and assault are prevalent issues in the soccer community, as there are countless other stories of abuse and pain committed by players. Holding these men accountable is the only way to change this cycle of abuse, and we must support these victims when allegations surface.