Mana Shim hesitates to describe her new position as her dream job, she said, because working to root out abuse in soccer is “not something that anyone hopes there needs to be a position for.”
But when U.S. Soccer’s president approached her in October about joining the federation as the leader of a new player safety committee, a job that will give her a leading role in shaping new policies to protect people from the kind of abuse she had endured as a player, Shim said she couldn’t help but feel as though she had found her calling.
“I feel like this is my life’s work,” Shim said in an interview on Monday morning, just after she announced her new role on social media.
Shim will join U.S. Soccer as the chair of what the federation is calling its participant safety task force. The committee will report directly to the federation’s most senior leaders and is part of its continuing effort to digest the revelations and implement the recommendations detailed in a report into what was described by its lead investigator, Sally Q. Yates, as the “systemic” abuse of women and girls in American soccer.
Among the details in the Yates report were the repeated efforts of players, including Shim, to raise concerns about abuse at the hands of coaches and the persistent failures of organizations like U.S. Soccer, the governing body for the sport in America, and the National Women’s Soccer League, in which Shim once played, to do enough to prevent it.
In her new role, Shim, 31, will direct a committee of 25 to 30 people including not only players and coaches but also psychologists, trainers and team doctors. The hope, Shim said, is that such a diversity of experiences will ensure that all viewpoints are taken into account as U.S. Soccer creates pathways, educational programs and reporting systems to eradicate abuse in the sport.
Shim admitted on Monday that the work would not be easy, or fast. But she also said she had decided the position was a natural fit for the skills she “intentionally acquired” in the years since she ended her career as a professional player: a law degree from the University of Hawaii; work on sexual abuse cases as a member of the public defender’s office in Honolulu; communications strategies as she worked to get her story out, and that of other players; and even time as an assistant coach at San Jose State, where she gained a new understanding of the power coaches can have over young players.
All of her experiences, including her own painful and personal ones, had given her a holistic view of abuse, its forms, its victims and even its perpetrators.
“Just as far as what I can offer, and what I care about,” Shim said of the new role, “it really feels like the perfect fit for where I am in my life and how I want to contribute in the world.”
Still, she acknowledged that the idea of going to work for a federation that had failed her as a player was not a decision she had made lightly. Shim said she weighed those concerns, and the perceptions others might have of her choice, before agreeing to join. She will report directly to U.S. Soccer’s president, Cindy Parlow Cone, and its new chief executive, JT Batson.
“It wasn’t a question of, ‘Is this a good idea?’” Shim said. “Because I do feel like it’s pretty obvious that U.S. Soccer has the power to make meaningful change in the sport. And if that’s my goal, then there’s no better place to be.
“There’s always that worry, and apprehension, when it comes to stepping inside, because then you lose the power to question and criticize, and that was obviously something I was thinking about. But I do feel like because of the way I was approached, I feel like I will really be supported in this work in the way I do it.”
Molly Levinson, who worked with Shim and others when they went public with their stories of abuse, said it was U.S. Soccer’s responsibility to ensure that the recommendations of the Yates report were enacted. Among the recommendations were the creation of a public list of individuals suspended or barred by U.S. Soccer, better vetting of coaches in the federation’s licensing process, mandatory investigations into accusations of abuse, and clear policies and rules about acceptable behavior and conduct.
“When it comes down to it,” Levinson said, “the U.S. Soccer board of directors and the sponsors of the organization have the final say in what the organization does moving forward to make change. And the hope is they are committed to do that.”
Shim acknowledged that she expected her education — legal, administrative and otherwise — to continue. But on Monday, she was just eager to get started, because “I know this is happening to other people.” She still hears new stories every week, from former teammates, from opponents she had never met, from strangers.
“It’s not just my story,” Shim said. “Talking to other people, professional players as well as youth players and college players and — it’s just something I can’t get away from. And not in a bad way but in a way that inspires me.”
“I’ve already experienced that rewarding feeling” of helping others, she added. “I feel like more needs to be done, obviously, which is why I’m here.”