A 20-year-old intern for NYC Football Club accused a major star of sexual harassment. Here’s what the club is ready to do about it.

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David Villa. Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images
  • In a tell-all for The Athletic, an NYCFC intern accused the soccer star David Villa of sexual harassment.
  • Skyler Badillo described unwanted touching and inappropriate comments from Villa. She alleges that her bosses treated his behaviour as a joke.
  • Most involved in the events are no longer with the club, though NYCFC says it took “corrective action” with one employee who remained.
  • The club’s investigation supported Badillo’s claims, but it denied having “an unhealthy culture” overall.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A former New York City FC intern accused the international soccer icon David Villa of sexual harassment in July, prompting an internal investigation.

Skyler Badillo, who interned with the team’s training staff, shared harrowing details in a tell-all with The Athletic’s Pablo Maurer. Badillo accused Villa of interrogating her about her dating life, grabbing her, and repeatedly telling her that he loved her, even within earshot of her colleagues.

She said the former World Cup winner made increasingly intense advances over time.

In one instance, she said, she’d mentioned weekend plans in the city.

“I was standing there and my back was to [Villa],” Badillo told The Athletic. “He got up and walked up behind me and put his hands on my hips and sort of pressed me into the counter I was standing at and whispered, into my ear, that I should ‘be careful of men in the city.’ And then he just left.”

In its subsequent report, NYCFC said it found evidence of “inappropriate and unacceptable” behaviour, though the club also characterised some conduct as “teasing.”

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Villa. REUTERS/David Grey

Badillo said Villa’s repeated passes were common knowledge among club staff members and accused higher-ups of treating the behaviour as a running joke. Badillo added that one of Villa’s teammates even texted her once to suggest she slap the star the next time he invaded her personal space.

“You’re getting harassed and everyone’s seeing it but not saying anything,” he wrote, according to a message reviewed by The Athletic. “They can’t be mad when you react.”

NYCFC’s statement on Badillo’s allegations did not mention Villa by name

Badillo said she decided to share her story with The Athletic in part because the club did not hold Villa directly accountable.

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Villa is the all-time leading scorer on the Spanish national team. REUTERS/Felix Ordonez

In a statement to Insider, the club said senior leadership at the franchise became aware of potential wrongdoing only after reading posts Badillo wrote on social media after Villa left NYCFC.

“The allegations made during the course of the investigation were that a small number of players and staff did not act in accordance with the Club’s standards in their interactions with the intern and with other Club staff,” the statement said. “This behaviour included unnecessary physical contact, teasing, and comments regarding clothing and appearance.”

The club also said that “nearly all of the individuals concerned in the allegations are no longer involved with the Club” and that leaders took “corrective action with respect to the one employee that remains.”

NYCFC’s full statement on the matter is available below:

Badillo, however, said she took issue with the club’s characterization of the offenders as “a small number of players and staff,” since she said she saw Villa as the heart of the issue.

A representative for Villa, who last played for NYCFC in 2018 and is now retired, denied any wrongdoing to The Athletic.

A source close to the club confirmed to Insider that Villa participated in the investigation and was cooperative throughout. Still, for both pragmatic and leagal reasons, NYCFC refrained from directly naming the Spanish star in its statement.

The powers that be widened the investigation in order to evaluate the culture across the entire club, the source told Insider, so other individuals and other staff members — including in the front office, on the field, in the academy, and elsewhere — were included. The club wanted to be sure that the investigation was not just focused on Villa and instead took stock of issues across its entire ranks.

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Villa earned the MLS MVP award in 2016. Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The investigation’s findings, though, did not suggest that the franchise fosters a toxic work environment, Insider’s source said. And though they acknowledged that details from The Athletic article are horrifying, the source underscored the point that the club was in no way attempting to protect Villa or cover up an unhealthy culture.

‘I don’t think anything changes when people bite their tongue’

Badillo told The Athletic that in one instance a club higher-up suggested that Villa’s fame would make it difficult to hold him accountable for poor behaviour.

“He said something along the lines of ‘if it was anybody else, we could maybe do something,'” Badillo said.

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The NYCFC logo. Noam Galai/Getty Images

But the source close to NYCFC suggested that was not the club’s approach overall and that Villa didn’t get any sort of protection because of his status as an acclaimed international footballer.

The source insisted that club officials would not have hesitated to take action had the appropriate staffers known about the allegations. And even though there were processes in place to report such offences, they noted that such procedures clearly did not work appropriately in Badillo’s instance and that there is room for improvement.

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Villa. AP Photo/Kevin Hagen

Badillo told The Athletic that after Badillo tweeted about her experiences with the club, City Football Group — the company that owns NYCFC and several other clubs — offered her financial compensation in exchange for signing a non-disparagement agreement. But Badillo insisted she doesn’t “want their money.”

“Part of it is that I don’t think anything changes when people bite their tongue,” she said.

According to portions of internal documents provided to Insider, NYCFC has made several internal policy changes. It will now require all employees — including interns and people employed by third-party staffing agencies — to complete two sexual-harassment trainings each year. Onboarding and training will also include clearer explanations of the club’s workplace-misconduct policies, which have been revamped to allow people to report grievances directly to human resources.

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Villa during an NYCFC game. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

In its statement, NYCFC said “the Club wishes to place on record its thanks to the former intern for her time and cooperation with the investigation and wishes her well for the future.”