Paul Riley’s misconduct brought to light as NWSL players speak up

Sign supporting NWSL players during game between LA Galaxy and LAFC (Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)
Sign supporting NWSL players during game between LA Galaxy and LAFC (Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images) /
Sign supporting NWSL players during game between LA Galaxy and LAFC (Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images) /

NWSL suspended weekend games as the fallout continues

When you walk into work each day you should feel safe, respected and valued. This isn’t some revolutionary idea, but rather basic components of human decency. It has become clear that many players across the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) have experienced anything but.

The NWSL and former North Carolina Courage head coach, Paul Riley, have been plastered across the news the past few days amidst allegations of sexual coercion on the part of Riley. Former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim spoke out in an article in The Athletic documenting the times they were taken advantage of and manipulated by Riley, both sexually and otherwise.

Despite statements of denial from Riley, and initial pushback from the league, Riley was terminated and had his coaching license suspended by U.S. Soccer while NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird and NWSL general counsel Lisa Levine have resigned.

Baird has faced a heap of criticism following the release of the article and the realization that she was dismissive of requests earlier in the year from Farrelly and Shim to reopen investigations into Riley’s misconduct.

This is where much of my criticism lies as well — with Baird and with a league that failed on multiple occasions to protect its players.

In 2015, Mana Shim, with the support and help of Alex Morgan, brought her complaints regarding Riley to the staff and leadership of the Portland Thorns. This eventually led to them letting Riley go in the fall of that year.

So how is it possible that just five months later he was rehired in the same league by the Western New York Flash?

How was his gross misconduct swept under the rug? How was he allowed to thrive again in a position of power, in a position that allowed him to previously and continuously take advantage of the women he oversaw?

It wasn’t until April of this year that the NWSL implemented an Anti-Harassment Policy for a Safe Work Environment to protect and look out for the players. That means nine years went by without any kind of player protection policy.

The NWSL Players Association has been particularly vocal about standing in support of Farrelly and Shim, creating a system for current and former NWSL players to make anonymous reports, and encouraging players to reach out to a specific sports psychologist.

Despite past fears that speaking up would be career-ending, players are becoming increasingly vocal about the ways in which they have been mistreated. It’s imperative that people like Riley and the leadership at the NWSL, who cared more about the image of the league than individual player’s safety and well-being, be held accountable. Without that, there’s no way for the league to move forward.

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The players cannot be silenced — they will not be silenced — and as the NWSL Player’s Association stated, they are taking their power back. Change is on the horizon and it can’t come fast enough.