Updated: Oct 18, 2021
National Women's Soccer League players around the league are taking a stand after it was reported there was a sexual harassment and sexual coercion scandal last week against former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley dating back to 2010. Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim were the two victims of Riley’s sexual predation and decided to let their stories come out to the public. Some of his actions include making Farrelly sit on his lap during a car ride and later coercing her into having sex with him, and allegedly made two players kiss to prevent the team from running extra laps. Shim said Riley tried many of the same tactics on her as he did with Farrelly. He was fired just hours after the report and the NWSL Commissioner, Lisa Baird resigned a day later. The league cancelled all games last weekend, with play resuming Wednesday night.
Players from the Washington Spirit and Gotham FC all stopped play in the sixth minute of their match on Wednesday night and linked arms in protest, making for a powerful statement after the disturbing allegations were reported. The Courage owner Steve Malik spoke out Wednesday and apologized for his “failure” with Riley, though he insisted that he was unaware of the allegations until last week. The NWSL, FIFA and U.S. Soccer have all initiated investigations into the allegations. The NWSLPA issued a list of demands regarding the league’s investigation, largely demanding full transparency and league-wide cooperation.
The Portland Thorns also placed general manager and president Gavin Wilkinson on administrative leave on Wednesday night pending the results of an outside investigation into the scandal, the team announced on Twitter. What makes these allegations more alarming is that Mana Shim told the Thorns about Riley’s behavior back in 2015. The Thorns and the NWSL handled it quietly so news wouldn’t get out, which allowed Riley to continue his career, putting more players at risk of his sexual manipulation.
USWNT and Orlando Pride striker Alex Morgan on Tuesday called for the National Women's Soccer League to end the systemic failure that has led to a decade of alleged sexual harassment of players by some league coaches. Morgan stated "I'm here to support Mana and Sinead and to continue to amplify their voices, and just show the systemic failure from the league and how wrong they did in handling Mana's case and complaint and investigation and where they failed Mana and Sinead, and probably many other women," She said.
Shim further amplified: "He's a predator. He sexually harassed me, he sexually coerced Sinead, and he took away our careers," Shim said. "From early on, there was a possession not just from Paul, but from the team that I was playing for. They silenced me for multiple issues, my sexuality being the most important one, and, yeah, I was just very, very uncomfortable the whole time. And every day I showed up to work, every day I practiced, every game I played, I didn't have confidence and I was scared. The only thing that got me through was my teammates."
The National Women’s Soccer League Players Association issued a statement in support of the players saying "Today, we stand with Mana, Sinead, and Kaiya [McCullough] as they continue to tell their stories. We have made the decision to proceed with Wednesday night's scheduled competition, but our demands will be forthcoming. #NoMoreSilence," the statement read.
The NWSL has been on a downward spiral in recent months by a series of firings and resignations related to sexual coercion, harassment and/or abusive behavior, all by men. What makes it more infuriating is that these franchises knew of these men’s backgrounds and behaviors before they were hired to be in charge of women.
The NWSL has a lot of questions to ask themselves, as they are at a crucial point in their league’s future to protect the players and limit these types of criminal acts in the league. Will the Riley scandal finally make the league take action, or will they once again fail their players? Only time will tell.