Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff is in Auckland, New Zealand, where he greeted members of the US women’s soccer team ahead of their World Cup title defense.
The United States opens the game on Friday against Vietnam in Auckland, where Emhoff will represent the White House from the stands, Jill Biden said this week.
Video from Wednesday’s meeting shows Emhoff chatting with USA Soccer Federation president Cindy Parlow Cone before shaking hands with team members, including Alex Morgan. He also received a USA jersey with ‘SGOTUS’ written across the back.
Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, will become the highest-profile US official to visit Samoa later this week as the Biden administration steps up its outreach to Pacific island nations.
Emhoff will meet with government officials, community leaders and businesswomen during his July 23-24 visit to the Samoan capital, Apia. His communications director, Liza Acevedo, said Wednesday that he will be the first White House director to visit the country. His visit comes as the United States aims to deepen diplomatic and economic ties with Samoa and other countries in the region.
Doug Emhoff, second gentleman, shows off a T-shirt given to him by the USWNT
Emhoff talks to USWNT star Megan Rapinoe in Auckland this week
The Second Gentleman’s visit came as more than 100 American soccer players called on Congress to improve the US Center for SafeSport, which is tasked with protecting athletes from abuse.
The US Soccer Athletes Council sent a letter to the US Senate and House of Representatives on Wednesday signed by current and former national team players, including the entire US team playing in the Women’s World Cup.
“As athletes, we want to lead in collaboration with Congress and the sport’s national governing bodies to create a safe and supportive environment that allows soccer players, and all other athletes in the Olympic movement, to thrive both on and off the field.
We are committed to working with you and other stakeholders to make the changes necessary to ensure that players are safe and protected from abuse. And that means we need to create an efficient, fair and effective system for athletes to report,” the letter said.
The move comes after an abuse and misconduct scandal rocked the National Women’s Soccer League. In 2021, two former players came forward and accused veteran coach Paul Riley of misconduct and sexual coercion. Riley, who denied the charges, was fired and later expelled from the league.
Emhoff waves with Cindy Parlow Cone, President of the USA Soccer Federation.
Riley was among five of 10 NWSL coaches that year who were fired or resigned amid allegations of inappropriate behavior. He spurred investigations by US Soccer and the league itself, which found a systemic culture of misconduct.
Both investigations also made recommendations for player safety, many of which have been implemented. But the US Soccer investigation, led by former acting US Attorney General Sally Yates, suggested the federation should not rely solely on SafeSport for player safety because the organization is slow to act.
The players’ letter said SafeSport declares too many cases administratively closed “without any ruling in favor of either party.”
‘This result has serious consequences for the victims. We have seen our colleagues muster the strength and courage to tell their stories, only to have their case closed by investigators with no conclusive results. When cases are closed administratively, there is no true closure for the victims and, more concerning, their abusers are free to return to their sport,” the letter said.
United States 2nd Gentleman Doug Emhoff poses with the USWNT before practice
The players also said SafeSport’s exclusive jurisdiction means US Soccer cannot investigate cases or take action on its own.
The Protection of Young Victims of Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 established SafeSport, which is responsible for investigating cases of sexual abuse in Olympic sports. It was formed after dozens of athletes from various sports detailed decades of abuse allegations that were not properly handled by the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the sports organizations it oversaw.
‘As it stands, SafeSport is the only formal mechanism to keep bad actors out of our sport, and we depend on it as we work towards reform. But Yates’ report revealed deep flaws in the SafeSport process. SafeSport was created with noble and important intentions, but we believe that as it stands today, SafeSport is failing in what it was supposed to achieve,” the letter from the players read.
SafeSport did not immediately respond to a request for comment.