NWSLPA, soccer stars demand change following Paul Riley allegations

North Carolina Courage NWSL coach Paul Riley
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In a bombshell report published Thursday by The Athletic’s Meg Linehan, NWSL coach Paul Riley of the North Carolina Courage was accused of sexual coercion and emotional abuse by multiple players.

The Athletic spoke to players from every team Riley has coached since 2010, over a dozen in total, including two – Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim – who went on the record with allegations against him.

The Athletic’s report details how Shim filed a complaint with the Portland Thorns (where Riley was then head coach) in September 2015, which was a factor in Riley’s contract not being renewed. The investigation into Riley’s behavior was shared with the league, but Riley was hired by a new team – the now-defunct Western New York Flash – five months later. The North Carolina Courage was founded in 2017 after the owner acquired the Flash’s rights, and Riley moved to North Carolina to lead the team.

According to the Athletic, Farrelly and Shim contacted the NWSL to request a new investigation after the league introduced an anti-harassment policy earlier this year. Both players were told by NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird that the 2015 complaint was “investigated to conclusion.”

In response to the report and allegations, the NWSL Players’ Association (NWSLPA) – which is currently in the process of negotiating the league’s first collective bargaining agreement – issued a statement, demanding that the NWSL take action. The NWSLPA listed three demands, calling on the league to 1) initiate an independent investigation, 2) suspend any league or club staff accused of violating the current anti-harassment policy regardless of when the initial complaint was made and 3) disclose how Paul Riley was hired within the NWSL after leaving another club following an investigation into abusive conduct.

The NWSLPA listed a deadline of 12pm EST on Friday, October 1, 2021, for all three demands – ahead of a collective bargaining session that is scheduled for the same day.

Many of women’s soccer’s biggest names also spoke out to demand change on Thursday, including Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, and current USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn.

“To be where we are today is unacceptable,” Sauerbrunn wrote in a note published on Twitter. “The league and every club have to do better. At a minimum, the league and clubs should heed the NWSLPA’s calls from further investigations and policy updates, and at best it needs to audit, overhaul and publicly discuss its plans to enforce player safety guidelines at both the league and club level.”

“Men, protecting men, who are abusing women. I’ll say it again, men, protecting men, who are ABUSING WOMEN. Burn it all down. Let all their heads roll,” Rapinoe wrote on Twitter.

Today’s report is only the latest detailing allegations against NWSL coaches, and the lack of transparency within the league that has allowed those accused of wrongdoing to transfer between teams.

In August, the Washington Post reported allegations that Washington Spirit players were verbally and emotionally abused by head coach Richie Burke. The Spirit – which had initially said Burke was stepping down as head coach for medical reasons and reassigned to a front office position – was suspended after the Post story was published. Earlier this week, the NWSL announced that Burke had been fired following an investigation into the league’s anti-harassment policy.