New National Women's Soccer League commissioner Jessica Berman, in her first news conference since her appointment was announced Wednesday, said that although the NWSL has started to address recent problems with steps like a landmark collective bargaining agreement with players, there's more work to do.
Berman, who won't start until April 20, arrives as the league is still reeling after allegations of sexual coercion, inappropriate behavior and emotional abuse against players forced the ouster of five male coaches last season. Her predecessor, Lisa Baird, resigned in October after a public call-out from players that she hadn't taken reports of abuse seriously enough.
Since then, the NWSL and the U.S. Soccer Federation have both launched investigations, which remain ongoing, and the league agreed in January to a first CBA with the NWSL Players Association.
"The CBA being done is really just the first step in the process, and the time to build trust is now when we don't actually need anything from each other," Berman said Wednesday.
"We have an agreement -- we could just as easily go our separate ways and come back together as we get close to the expiration of the CBA. In our case, that is the opposite of what we will do. We will communicate regularly. We will institute a standing call at least weekly."
The CBA improves working conditions for players, including better pay, housing, health insurance, paid mental health leave and free agency. But the NWSL continues to deal with the fallout from widespread allegations of abuse throughout last season.
Paul Riley, former coach of the Portland Thorns, had been accused in September of sexually coercing players and, although a player reported his behavior to the Thorns' front office back in 2015, Riley remained employed in the NWSL until two players, Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly, went public with their stories last year.
Baird said she was "shocked" by the "new allegations" from Shim and Farrelly, but quickly stepped down as commissioner after star player Alex Morgan tweeted an email exchange showing Baird had dismissed a request from Farrelly to re-investigate Riley's behavior.
Berman said earning back the trust of fans will be an ongoing process and she will need to learn more about how fans feel when she starts the job.
"I like to think that everyone has a superpower. My superpower, I believe, is building consensus and really listening and learning and trying to understand different people's perspectives," she said. "I would want to really seek to understand and learn the context of what is the underpinning of any of those challenges and then work to figure out solutions."
Asked if team owners should be required to publicly answer questions, as many owners have refused to speak to the media, Berman said she didn't have enough information to weigh in yet: "It would be unfair for me to comment on any specifics of the situation. I'm 40 days before my first day, so I will respectfully just say that as to those circumstances, I'm not really at liberties to say one way or the other."
But she said, in general, she believed in having more transparency.
"I think there is an opportunity to have respectful dialogue and discourse and, to the extent there are valid and appropriate outstanding questions, we figure out a way to get those resolved, whether that's in a private or public forum," she said.
"I think all of that work has been underway through some of the issues and challenges that the league has faced. I know that this league and I am committed to creating a safe and positive culture for the players that includes physical and emotional well-being and all of that ladders up to a transparent process."
Berman also said she plans to address initiatives for diversity, equity and inclusion. She said she had spoken on Tuesday with NJ/NY Gotham FC forward Midge Purce, the executive director of the Black Women's Players Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting black women in the NWSL.
"I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and I was the minority and was surrounded by people of color," Berman told reporters. "I became obsessed with finding ways to break down barriers and to recognize privilege and find a way to destigmatize and address communities who have been marginalized. It is the thing that I am most passionate about."