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National Women’s Soccer League Cancels Upcoming Games Amid Abuse Allegations

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at October 1, 2021

Topline

The National Women’s Soccer League announced Friday it is calling off all matches scheduled for this weekend as it grapples with recently raised allegations of abusive behavior and sexual misconduct by coaches toward players in the league.

Key Facts

In an update posted to its website, NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird acknowledged what she described as a “traumatic” week for the players and said the league is not concerned with “business as usual.”

Matches scheduled for Friday and Saturday, including a face-off between the Washington Spirit and North Carolina Courage (teams that both lost their coaches this week due to abuse allegations), will not go forward, Baird said.

Among the most serious allegations plaguing the league are those against former North Carolina coach Paul Riley, who has been accused of sexually and verbally abusing multiple players; Riley denied the allegations but was fired from the team on Thursday. 

Baird herself has faced criticism for the league’s handling of claims which players say were raised privately before they were finally made public this week.

She deemed the cancellation of the games as “the first step as we collectively work to transform the culture of this league,” which she described as “long overdue.”

Crucial Quote 

“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,” Baird said in the Thursday announcement. “Our entire league has a great deal of healing to do, and our players deserve so much better.”

Key Background

A series of recent reports have made public allegations players say were long known to the leadership of the National Women’s Soccer League. Players at multiple teams have claimed they were verbally abused by their coaches and at least three coaches have been fired from the league for misconduct this year—including Richie Burke, the Spirit coach who the league announced this week was axed following an investigation into allegations of verbal abuse against him. Calls for change at the NSWL were heightened by a bombshell report published by The Athletic on Thursday detailing allegations against Riley, one of the league’s most prominent coaches, spanning multiple teams and leagues for over a decade. One player, Sinead Farrelly, alleged she felt coerced into having sex with Riley on multiple instances while he was her coach. Another, Meleana “Mana” Shim, claimed Riley led her and Farrelly back to his apartment after a night of drinking and asked them to kiss each other. Riley in a statement to The Athletic said the majority of the allegations against him were “completely untrue” and denied ever having sex with or making sexual advances toward any players.

Chief Critic

The NWSL players’ association on Thursday condemned what it described as “systemic abuse” plaguing the league and called for an investigation into Riley. “Words cannot adequately capture our anger, pain, sadness and disappointment,” said the statement posted to Twitter.

Further Reading

“NWSL players speak out amid abuse claims: ‘Burn it all down’” (The Washington Post)

“’This guy has a pattern’: Amid institutional failure, former NWSL players accuse prominent coach of sexual coercion” (The Athletic)

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