NWSL Players Pause Games, Stand in Solidarity After Paul Riley Misconduct Allegations

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVOctober 6, 2021

CARSON, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 03: Signage supporting NWSL players is seen during a game between the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Los Angeles FC at Dignity Health Sports Park on October 03, 2021 in Carson, California. (Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)
Katharine Lotze/Getty Images

Members of the NJ/NY Gotham FC and Washington Spirit halted play in the sixth minute of Wednesday's NWSL match as an act of solidarity amid the ongoing fallout from allegations about misconduct across the league.

National Women’s Soccer League @NWSL

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The National Women's Soccer League Players Association said the demonstration was "in recognition of the 6 years it took for Mana [Shim], Sinead [Farrelly], and all those who fought for too long to be heard" and that the teams in other games tonight would do the same.

Shim and Farrelly came forward in a report by The Athletic's Meg Linehan and detailed sexual coercion and abuse they said they experienced from former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley.

The scandal has widened in scope and resulted in the resignation of commissioner Lisa Baird and the ouster of general counsel Lisa Levine.

The NWSLPA laid out a series of demands on social media, which include an independent investigation into "abusive conduct":

NWSLPA @nwsl_players

We will be relentless in our pursuit of a league that deserves the players in it. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NoMoreSilence?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NoMoreSilence</a> <a href="https://t.co/0aa7IbM2Th">pic.twitter.com/0aa7IbM2Th</a>

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Beyond the allegations against Riley, Linehan outlined deeper structural failings within the NWSL.

Shim didn't have a way to file an anonymous complaint through the Portland Thorns' human resources department in 2015 while playing for the team.

And while the Thorns investigated Riley and eventually dismissed him as manager as a result of the findings, he returned to the NWSL as coach of the Western New York Flash and later the Courage following the Flash's relocation.

Courage owner Steve Malik said Wednesday the club "conducted due diligence to continue with Mr. Riley and the coaching staff."

"We were made aware of an investigation into Mr. Riley’s behavior in 2015 and were subsequently assured that he was in good standing," Malik said. "During his employment with the Courage, we had no knowledge of allegations of sexual harassment or coercion."

What transpired in Portland was part of a larger problem across the NWSL.

Molly Hensley-Clancy of the Washington Post reported former Spirit coach Richie Burke had been verbally abusive toward his players and made racially insensitive remarks on multiple occasions. At least four Spirit players had left the team because of Burke.

Hensley-Clancy later reported on the Spirit organization as a whole and wrote that players and staffers "had been subjected to a workplace culture that was toxic for women and, many said, for women of color."

OL Reign CEO Bill Predmore, meanwhile, confirmed the club parted ways with Farid Benstiti after he had made an inappropriate remark to the players during a training session.

Some questioned the initial hiring of Benstiti since Lindsey Horan said in a 2019 interview he had criticized her for her weight and was "very brutal with me" at Paris Saint-Germain.

Following Baird's resignation, the NWSL announced an executive committee will handle day-to-day operations until a replacement is found. The league said it is also "launching several critical investigative and reform initiatives to protect players and staff, and the environments in which athletes live, train, and compete to give athletes the agency and ability to safely report misconduct of any form."

The United States Soccer Federation also retained Sally Q. Yates to lead an independent inquiry.


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