Paul Riley fired as NWSL rocked by abuse accusations


A leading head coach of the top women’s soccer league in the United States was fired on Thursday after several former players accused him of verbally and sexually assaulting them while they were members of his teams, a reminder troubling about the power dynamics that can put women in professional sports in vulnerable positions even as their importance and their salaries have increased in recent years.

Head coach Paul Riley was the second fired by a National Women’s Soccer League this week, and the third to lose his job for misconduct since August. Riley, who led North Carolina Courage to two league championships, and Richie Burke, who was fired by the Washington Spirit on Tuesday, were dismissed after players detailed what they described as abusive and – in Riley’s case – sexually coercive behavior. by men. The third trainer, Christy Holly, was fired by Racing Louisville “for cause” in August; the team never disclosed the reasons that led to his dismissal.

The most recent charges against Riley and Burke – recounted in a series of published reports – come as a seismic shock to the NWSL, a nine-year-old league that is still struggling to find its place.

They also raised questions about the league’s handling of workplace harassment issues, as many of the charges were known to the NWSL and were even investigated, but did not result in any decisive action. until the players have told their story publicly.

In a statement, league commissioner Lisa Baird said she was “shocked and disgusted” by the charges against Riley, but made no mention that the players involved had personally told her. their concerns earlier this year.

In a dazzling statement earlier Thursday, the NWSL players’ union demanded immediate action from the league after a string of accusations in recent years that coaches, owners and team leaders have abused or been abusing themselves. were attacking the athletes, and that the league had no effective system to investigate. or stop bad behavior.

“The NWSL has failed us,” the union said, announcing that it was making advice available to any player seeking help and setting up a path for NWSL players. report abuse.

The players’ union asked an immediate investigation in charges against Riley; suspensions for any employee accused of violating the league’s anti-harassment policy or of failing to report such abuse; and explanations of how some previous charges were handled.

The call came following several published reports that league coaches verbally and sexually abused their players – sometimes for years, and even after players reported the abuse to team officials and the league.

The biggest revelation came Thursday morning, when The Athletic published an article containing allegations that Riley, who coached Courage to two consecutive NWSL titles in 2018 and 2019, coerced a player into having sex with him ; forced two players to kiss and then sent them unsolicited sex photos; and yelled and belittled the players.

The Athletic also reported that Riley was fired from his head coaching position with the Portland Thorns in 2015 in part due to violations of team policy. In a statement to The Athletic, Courage said that “from what we know” Riley had lived up to the club’s expectations, and the NWSL admitted it had refused to reopen an investigation into what had happened. with Riley and the Thorns despite a request from the players to do so.

But hours after the report was released, the team fired Riley.

“In light of today’s information, North Carolina Courage has fired head coach Paul Riley with immediate effect following very serious allegations of misconduct,” the team said in a statement. which she said came from the property, staff and players.

The NWSL noted he would report Riley to the US Center for Safesport, a non-profit organization created by the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee to protect athletes from sexual, physical and emotional abuse. The United States Football Federation said it had suspension of Riley’s coaching license.

Riley has denied most of the allegations to Athletic, and he did not respond to a New York Times request for comment.

In its statement, the NWSL players’ union also asked how Riley was hired by the Western New York Flash and retained when they moved to North Carolina, even after one of its previous employers, the Thorns. , was made aware of the charges against him. .

His abrupt dismissal came days after the NWSL concluded an investigation into another of its teams, the Washington Spirit. The league did not share the findings of the investigation, but did announce that Spirit’s coach Burke had been fired for cause and would no longer be allowed to work in the NWSL, and that the owners of Spirit would not be allowed to participate in the governance of the league. Questions. “The NWSL Board of Governors has determined that the Spirit and its owners have not acted in the best interests of the league,” the NWSL said in the statement.

The investigation was sparked by a Washington Post article that said Burke “regularly unleashed a torrent of threats, criticism and personal insults” on his players. One player, Kaiya McCullough, said she left the team because of the abuse she suffered.

The accusations had a precedent: Two years ago, young players accused Burke of using abusive language in a previous job. The Spirit was standing behind him at that time.

Through many stories of abuse by female players, a few cohesive themes have emerged. One was the player’s sense of helplessness, or a responsibility to accept inappropriate behavior rather than report it for fear of causing public trouble to fledgling professional leagues that often exist on shaky financial bases. While many members of the World Cup-winning United States National Women’s Team are household names and earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, about three-quarters of NWSL players earn 31 $ 000 or less each season, according to his players union.

“It is infuriating that the NWSL became aware of this abuse and allowed the abuser to be rehired,” said Meghan Klingenberg, longtime Thorns member and World Cup winner, wrote on Twitter. She added: “Why do we have to put up with inadequate conditions and dangerous work environments when abusers are given protection, a good salary and a new hunting ground to prey on young women? “

Alex Morgan, a star of the United States Women’s National Team and the NWSL’s Orlando Pride, then posted on Twitter an email exchange between one of Riley and Baird’s accusers which Morgan said showed that the league “had failed to protect its own players”.

In an email to Baird, player Sinead Farrelly appears to offer new information that she “experienced extremely inappropriate conduct firsthand.” Baird responded that league records show the case “has been investigated to its conclusion.”

While issues of abuse, gaps in leadership and the willingness to ignore issues that could harm women’s football have intensified in recent months, they fit a long-standing pattern. The NWSL’s predecessor league, Women’s Professional Soccer, closed in 2012 in part due to a legal battle between the league and team magicJack owner Dan Borislow after players accused Borislow of intimidate and threaten players.

Last year, Major League Soccer forced Dell Loy Hansen, owner of Real Salt Lake and also owner of the Utah Royals in the NWSL, to sell his teams after former players and employees detailed his story of racist comments and sexist. And earlier this season, New York-area NWSL club Gotham FC, sacked its general manager, Alyssa LaHue, for what he said were unspecified violations of league policy.

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