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National Women's Soccer League Players Demand Change Following Paul Riley Scandal

By Jennifer Roback

In September of 2021, former National Women's Soccer League players Sinead Farrelly and Meleana “Mana” Shim came forward and accused former NWSL coach Paul Riley of sexual coercion and verbal abuse during his coaching career.

Following their allegations, former and currently NWSL players have since showed their support and have demanded change, claiming that the league has failed them.

"He's a predator," Shim told Savannah Guthrie during an interview with TODAY. "He sexually harassed me. He sexually coerced Sinead, and he took away our careers."

Farrelly added: “This isn’t something that just goes away overnight because we talk about it,” Shim said. “It’s extremely vulnerable and detailed … I’m just so grateful for this opportunity to get these bad people out of the league, and really shine a light on this issue because it’s so prevalent.

“It’s not just this team, it’s not just this coach, it’s across the league, it’s across the sport, and we have to do something about it.”

On September 30, 2021, former NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird released a statement about the allegations, claiming that she was "shocked" and "disgusted" about the "new" allegations, which many players have said aren't that new at all, she resigned just days later.

"The league was informed of these allegations [against Riley] multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate the allegations," NWSL star Alex Morgan said in a tweet. "The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse."

Morgan later added screenshots of an email exchange that showed Baird had been contacted directly by Farrelly.

According to The Athletic, who first broke the story, Riley was first investigated back in 2015, when he was the head coach of the Portland Thorns FC, after Shim emailed the team's owner and top officials about incidents of alleged sexual coercion.

Farrelly told the media outlet that she was interviewed during the investigation into Riley but it only resulted in the team not renewing his contract. Despite the allegations, he was still able to continue coaching and was later hired by the Western New York Flash less than a year later.

"What are we saying to young players 12 or 13 years old, about what we are going to allow to happen to our athletes in this country?" Orlando Pride goalie Erin McLeod said. "And that’s unforgivable that this is happening, and it continues to happen.”

As more players and activists demand change, the league has since stated that they will now be conducting independent examinations of worksafe policies and enforcement at each club and they will also reopen the 2015 investigation into Riley adding that they will "undertake a significant systemic and cultural transformation" to "regain the trust" of players and fans.

Most recently, sources told Just Women's Sports that players are also calling for Portland Thorns GM Gavin Wilkinson to be fired after no Thorns employee lost their job over the scandal, despite the organization admitting to covering up the details of Riley’s 2015 dismissal.

On October 5, the NWSL Players Association took to Twitter to release an update, stating that they will be resuming games again following a break but added that “demands will be forthcoming.”

“We acknowledge that we will not process the pain of the last several days in one weekend or one week,” they wrote. “In the midst of statements that leagues and clubs are quick to release, we have been listening to ourselves, and to one another.”

"Today, we stand with Mana, Sinead, and Kaiya as they continue to tell their stories," the post continued.

On Wednesday, October 6, the Gotham FC is scheduled to play the Washington Spirit while Racing Louisville will play the North Carolina Courage, who fired Riley less than a week ago.

The Portland Thorns are also scheduled to play the Houston Dash.

If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or visit their website to receive confidential support.

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