Players including World Cup winners Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan have called for repercussions after allegations emerged of abusive behavior by one of the National Women’s Soccer League’s most successful coaches.
The Athletic on Thursday detailed allegations of sexual coercion and misconduct by North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley, who led the team to back-to-back NWSL championships in 2018 and 2019, after speaking to more than a dozen players he has coached since 2010. The Courage sacked Riley on Thursday in the wake of the allegations.
The report also said Riley was hired by the now-defunct Western New York Flash despite a complaint over his behavior that was shared with the league after his 2015 season with the Portland Thorns. The Courage was founded in 2017 after its owner acquired the franchise rights from the Flash.
One player, Sinead Farrelly, alleges Riley coerced her into having sex with him and also forced her to kiss another player at his apartment.
The Athletic said Riley denied “the majority” of the allegations detailed in the report. NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said she was “shocked and disgusted to read the new allegations” and would report the case to the US Center for SafeSport.
“The Courage support the players who have come forward and we commend them for bravely sharing their stories,” read an official statement signed by “the players, staff and principal owner” of the club. “The North Carolina Football Club is united together in our commitment to creating a safe, positive and respectful environment, not only within our club but across the league and our great sport.”
In a statement released on social media, the National Women’s Soccer League Players’ Association said the league lacked “basic and fundamental protections that ensure dignity at work” and said “players demand greater control over their lives and careers”.
The players association also demanded the NWSL “initiate an independent investigation into the allegations published by The Athletic this morning” by 12pm on Friday. “Words cannot adequately capture our anger, pain, sadness, and disappointment,” the NWSLPA said. “To the players who suffer in silence, know that the [NWSLPA] holds a safe space for you.”
The Athletic investigation sent shockwaves through the world of women’s soccer in North America, with OL Reign player Rapinoe, twice a World Cup winner with the US national team, calling for action.
“To everyone in a position of power who let this happen, heard it & dismissed it, signed off on this monster moving to another team w/zero repercussions, FUCK YOU,” Rapinoe wrote on Twitter. “You’re all monsters,& can ALL hand your resignations in immediately.”
Rapinoe’s USA teammate Morgan was interviewed by the Athletic for their investigation, and backed the allegations in the story. On Thursday, she tweeted: “I am sickened and have too many thoughts to share at this moment. Bottom line: protect your players. Do the right thing NWSL.”