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NWSL needs better disciplinary committee procedure

The league is too slow to announce disciplinary measures.

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NWSL logo

This past weekend in NWSL, the Portland Thorns played away at the Chicago Red Stars. When young Thorns rookie Tyler Lussi subbed on in the 61’, she almost immediately fouled Red Stars midfielder Danny Colaprico during a tussle for the ball, grabbing a handful of her braid and yanking Colaprico back, then stepping on her arm.

Colaprico had to have X-rays for the injury, but fortunately her arm wasn’t broken, and she is still listed as questionable instead of out for this weekend with a left wrist contusion.

It was something of a surprise Lussi wasn’t immediately carded; as you can see in the gif above, the ref is in good position, although perhaps he might have had his view blocked by the body of Christine Sinclair.

But in replays it was devastatingly obvious that Lussi had committed a cardable offense and one that almost definitely warranted further suspension. So why hasn’t the NWSL Disciplinary Committee said anything about it so far?

The DisCo has historically been pretty slow in handing out punishment. Earlier this season, when Seattle’s Merrit Matthias committed almost exactly the same infraction (on a Portland player no less) with a hair pull, she eventually received a three-game suspension. Seattle-Portland was played May 6 and the decision was announced on May 11.

If that timeline holds for this decision, assuming the DisCo decides on suspension, then a game played August 12 will get a decision tomorrow, August 17. But that’s complicated by Portland playing FC Kansas City in a game tonight, August 16. Surely the DisCo would announce if a player were suspended before her team plays a game.

According to a spokesperson for NWSL, the Disciplinary Committee has reviewed the Lussi/Colaprico incident. The committee “typically convenes every Monday or the next day following a midweek game, if needed,” according to the spokesperson, and timeline on announcements is on a case-by-case basis, with decisions being made before the club’s next game whenever possible. Perhaps if a decision was made Monday, announcement was held up by a club appeal on Lussi’s behalf.

But what that means is NWSL fans have had a full weekend and then some to stew in the silence from the league, and in the meantime a miasma of negativity has risen up around Lussi and the Thorns. Things didn’t get better after head coach Mark Parsons gave a statement yesterday about the team’s own internal review of the incident.

One only has to search for Lussi’s name on twitter to see there’s been a fairly constant stream of accusations of being a dirty player, a cheater, “trash,” and more. Parsons’ response, while attempting to protect his player, stirred the pot even more, and it probably didn’t help that Thorns owner Merritt Paulson also jumped in.

Paulson may be slightly missing the point with his comment about male players getting red cards and not facing this level of hate. The point here is that Lussi received no card at all. The lack of punishment is what is inciting the continued unrest among NWSL fans, exacerbated by radio silence from the DisCo.

The NWSL disciplinary committee needs to be far more transparent when it comes to punishing players. Not just in making faster decisions, but in keeping fans aware of the process. There wouldn’t be nearly the same state of agitation had a decision been announced on Monday. Even an announcement that the incident had been reviewed but perhaps the Thorns were appealing, if that is indeed what is delaying a final decision, would have helped. But silence allows fans to take control of the narrative, and every time there’s a huge gap between incident and decision, it makes things worse for the player, her team, and the fans.

Given the state of technology these days, there really isn’t a reason why these decisions can’t move faster. And in this case, there’s easy precedent in place for exactly this type of foul. A final decision might have been delayed if Portland argues that Lussi doesn’t have the same history of fouls as Matthias and therefore deserves a one- or two-game suspension instead of three, but that still doesn’t explain why the league isn’t better about keeping fans updated. Lack of information has been a common complaint for NWSL fans in multiple areas, from the schedule to who is actually league commissioner to broadcast deals. This seems like an area where they could actually control fan perception and at the same time help protect teams and players by satisfying the need to see transgression followed by punishment. Otherwise fans will attempt to step into the vacuum and that’s an easy recipe for toxicity.