The NWSL announced on Friday afternoon that it will call off this weekend’s matches on the heels of a damning report from The Athletic regarding now-former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley. In it, multiple players (including two, Sinead Farrelly and Meleana “Mana” Shim, who spoke on the record about specific incidents) recounted Riley’s history of abusive behavior, which led to him being the second coach this week — alongside ex-Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke — who was dismissed due to allegations of abuse and creating a toxic environment within the club.
“This week, and much of this season, has been incredibly traumatic for our players and staff, and I take full responsibility for the role I have played,” NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement on the league’s website. “I am so sorry for the pain so many are feeling. Recognizing that trauma, we have decided not to take the field this weekend to give everyone some space to reflect. Business as usual isn’t our concern right now. Our entire league has a great deal of healing to do, and our players deserve so much better. We have made this decision in collaboration with our players association and this pause will be the first step as we collectively work to transform the culture of this league, something that is long overdue.”
The response to the report on Riley featured a number of the most prominent women’s soccer players in the United States, like USWNT stalwarts Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, offering up support for those impacted by the actions of Riley (which reportedly date back to 2010) and the inaction of the league in investigating longstanding allegations of misconduct.
(1/3)The league was informed of these allegations multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate the allegations. The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse. https://t.co/KDRBhhVBcT
— Alex Morgan (@alexmorgan13) September 30, 2021
Never once during this whole time was the right person protected. Not Mana, not Sinead, not us not the players not the little girls who will become us not the big girls who already are us not any of US. This statement is beyond disrespectful. https://t.co/HDPkFhFEc6
— Megan Rapinoe (@mPinoe) September 30, 2021
As reporting from The Athletic indicated, Riley had been the source of formal complaints to the league from players in the past, including Shim filing a complaint in 2015 in the immediate aftermath of the season. He was relieved by his then-team, the Portland Thorns, which confirmed that the investigation found him in violation of team policy.
After the NWSL adopted a new anti-harassment policy earlier this year, Farrelly and Shim contacted the league to ask for a new investigation into Riley’s behavior. League commissioner Lisa Baird thanked them for raising their concerns but informed both former players the 2015 complaint was “investigated to conclusion,” and that she could not share any details. This week, when informed of The Athletic’s reporting on Riley, including the allegations made by Farrelly that were not part of the 2015 Thorns probe, Baird chose not to respond. An NWSL spokesperson said in a statement: “The league was contacted earlier this year regarding an investigation that was completed in 2015. Absent any new or additional information, the matter was closed. That said, the behavior described by former players has absolutely no place in our league and will not be tolerated.”
Riley and Burke are the latest male coaches to leave their post or be fired this year due to these sorts of allegations.