NWSL investigation: Racing Louisville FC responds to allegations against Christy Holly

Former Racing Louisville FC coach Christy Holly poses for a picture at Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville, Ky. Holly was fired "for cause" in August 2021.
Former Racing Louisville FC coach Christy Holly poses for a picture at Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville, Ky. Holly was fired "for cause" in August 2021.

Two days after a high-profile investigation revealed sexual assault allegations against former Racing Louisville FC coach Christy Holly, club President James O'Connor released a statement calling the hire "a mistake."

But O'Connor isn't stepping down.

"We have worked hard every day since then to ensure a safe environment that puts players in a position to succeed," O'Connor's statement said. "This includes implementation of club-wide anonymous reporting services and a re-evaluated hiring process for staff."

The five-paragraph response ignited strong reactions from fans Wednesday afternoon on social media. Many have called on O'Connor to resign as president of Soccer Holdings LLC, which owns Racing and Louisville City FC, for his role in hiring Holly as Racing's first coach in August 2020.

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James O'Connor, executive V.P. Development of Soccer Holdings, LLC., spoke during a press conference as they unveiled Louisville's new National Women's Soccer League franchise name as Racing Louisville FC on July 8, 2020.  The NWSL team is set to make its debut in 2021.
James O'Connor, executive V.P. Development of Soccer Holdings, LLC., spoke during a press conference as they unveiled Louisville's new National Women's Soccer League franchise name as Racing Louisville FC on July 8, 2020. The NWSL team is set to make its debut in 2021.

Holly is accused of sexually assaulting a former Racing defender during a one-on-one film session on April 21, 2021, according to former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates' independent investigation on behalf of the U.S. Soccer Federation. The report also alleges Holly engaged in a "pattern of misconduct," verbally and emotionally abusing players in Louisville and during his two-year stint coaching the club now known as NJ/NY Gotham FC.

"While our former coach was terminated within 24 hours of us being alerted to the behavior, we know that wasn’t enough and that we failed our locker room by creating a space where this behavior could occur," O'Connor said. "We are not the same club that we were in August of 2021. We now owe it to our players and community to prove it."

Racing fired Holly "for cause" on Aug. 31, 2021, but did not elaborate on its reasons for the decision. No criminal charges have been filed, and Louisville Metro Police said "no reports have been taken" regarding the former coach, who declined comment when reached by the Courier Journal on Monday.

Fans of Racing and Louisville City are planning a silent protest during the men's United Soccer League match Wednesday against Detroit, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m. from Lynn Family Stadium.

'We're gonna be silent':LouCity supporters to protest in wake of allegations against ex-Racing coach Christy Holly

Racing Louisville FC rights-holder shares thoughts

Dr. Mark Lynn was present for a Louisville City FC press conference on Monday afternoon where it was announced that the new Butchertown soccer field will be named Lynn Family Stadium. 8/5/19
Dr. Mark Lynn was present for a Louisville City FC press conference on Monday afternoon where it was announced that the new Butchertown soccer field will be named Lynn Family Stadium. 8/5/19

Before O'Connor released his statement, the man who purchased the naming rights to the Lynn Family Stadium said Wednesday morning that the NWSL had told the club to stay silent.

"The league has told the teams, 'Don’t speak; don’t talk about it,'" said Dr. Mark Lynn, an optometrist and co-owner of Lynn Family Sports Vision & Training. "They’re doing their own investigation, and some of the presidents and owners of the league are issuing statements, and it’s basically, 'Hey, we can’t say anything.' So they’re stuck in the same boat because they’re part of the league."

Lynn, who in 2019 scored the naming rights to Louisville's premier soccer stadium with an undisclosed donation, told the Courier Journal he had "no idea" about the allegations against Holly when the coach was fired. He was told the club chose to sign non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements with Holly to "protect" the player.

"They were doing everything they could to protect the player at that point," Lynn told the Courier Journal on Wednesday. "Now the player’s decided to deal with it openly, and I’m very glad she did, because the only way it’s gonna stop is to get it out there. And now that it’s out there, this type of thing is reprehensible, and you just can’t allow it.

"So I’m glad they terminated for cause and made it go away as fast as they could when it happened. (That’s) really, the extent of my knowledge of it at this point, but it seemed like once they knew they dealt with it quickly and harshly … and everything they did was to help preserve and protect the player."

Yates and Atlanta-based law firm King & Spalding LLP, however, list Racing among the clubs that "did not fully cooperate" with their investigation.

The report says Racing produced just 41 documents for investigators, "refused" to turn over other documents concerning Holly and, citing its non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements, "would not permit witnesses (even former employees) to answer relevant questions regarding Holly’s tenure."

"They’re trying to follow the rules and (regulations) that they’ve been given, as well," Lynn told the Courier Journal. "So it’s a tough, tough spot they’ve been put in from both sides of the fence."

Former Racing Louisville FC captain speaks

Racing Louisville FC goalkeeper Michelle Betos (1) kicks the ball down the field during the first half of an NWSL soccer match against Washington in Washington, on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades)
Racing Louisville FC goalkeeper Michelle Betos (1) kicks the ball down the field during the first half of an NWSL soccer match against Washington in Washington, on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades)

Speaking with the Courier Journal on Tuesday, former Racing captain Michelle Betos said teams involved in Yates' investigation need to hold owners and executives responsible for creating environments where coaches could abuse players.

"It took one of the worst things that could happen to a person to actually get him out of there," Betos said of Holly. "For me, it just feels really important that people understand this league, these teams, these owners and people in positions of power have existed in this way for so long."

'They need to clean house':Former Racing captain responds to Christy Holly investigation

Moving forward, Betos said, "there needs to be a space where players have trust in their higher-ups. I think that trust was broken, if it was ever there to begin with. They need to be held accountable."

Racing Louisville FC corporate sponsors release statements

Dramatic skies added to the thrilling debut game of the Racing Louisville FC's at Lynn Family Stadium on Saturday night. 4/10/21
Dramatic skies added to the thrilling debut game of the Racing Louisville FC's at Lynn Family Stadium on Saturday night. 4/10/21

GE Appliances, whose logo is featured on the front of Racing's kits, posted a statement to Twitter on Wednesday afternoon:

"GE Appliances condemns the actions and systemic failures outlined in the investigation of abuse against these players. We believe all athletes deserve a safe and professional environment in which to compete and train," the statement said. "Our financial support is a commitment to help close the gaps in opportunity faced by female athletes. Our continued sponsorship hinges on the ability of this team to make real changes that ensure a safe and positive environment for the athletes."

Barrell Craft Spirits also posted a statement to its Twitter account Wednesday. The company said, in part, that its continued sponsorship "will wholly depend on the team and NWSL's response to creating swift and meaningful change."

And Baptist Health said through a spokesperson: "The information in these reports is heartbreaking and very troubling. Baptist Health supports the athletes of Racing Louisville FC. Our prayers are with the players affected, and we applaud their courage in coming forward to tell their stories."

Reach recruiting and trending sports reporter Brooks Holton at bholton@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter at @brooksHolton.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: NWSL's Racing Louisville responds to allegations against Christy Holly