The National Women's Soccer League returned to play on Wednesday night and players across the league participated in demonstrations in light of recent reports detailing player abuse and sexual coercion.
A triple-header of matches on Paramount+ and CBS Sports Network began with NJ/NY Gotham FC and Washington Spirit meet at Subaru Park in Chester, Pennsylvania, as part of a hometown farewell match for Carli Lloyd. During the sixth minute of the match, players linked arms in the center circle in solidarity and support for former NWSL players Sinead Farrely and Mana Shim, and former Washington Spirit player Kaiya McCullough.
The demonstration went forward with a statement released from the NWSL Players Association, detailing the reasons for the pause in the match, explaining that the stoppage of play during the sixth minute of play was to repress the six years between the first reports of abuse.
The statement from the union encouraged fans "to stand in that pain and discomfort with the players," and went on to further issue demands for their future of the league. Among the demands listed are seven points of action, which include participation in investigations conducted and a role in the hiring of a new league commissioner.
- Every coach, general manager, representative on the Board of Governors, and owner voluntarily submit to the Players Association's independent investigation into abusive conduct. They may notify executive director Meghann Burke of their agreement with this demand by the close of business on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021.
- The scope of NWSL's investigation announced on Sunday evening, Oct. 4, 2021 be expanded to include an investigation of each of the 12 NWSL Clubs represented on the Board of Governors to determine whether any abuse, whether presently known or unknown, has occurred at any point in time.
- The scope of NWSL's investigation further be expanded to determine whether any league office staff, NWSL club, or person in a position of power within NWSL neglected to investigate concerns of abuse raised by any player or staff member at any point in time.
- NWSL adopt an immediate "Step Back Protocol" whereby any person in a position of power (e.g. owner, representative on the Board of Governors, general manager, or management supervisor) at the time that a club either hired or separated from employment a coach who was, is, or will be under investigation for abuse be suspended from any governance or oversight role within NWSL pending the conclusion of an independent investigation, effectively immediately. For any club that took swift action to protect players upon the discovery of facts that were not previously known to the club, the immediate disclosure to the Players Association of the circumstances and the policies or practices implemented to prevent the same from happening again may be grounds to restore that person to their position quickly, with the Players Association's agreement.
- NWSL immediately agree to disclose all investigative reports referenced in its statement of Oct. 3, 2021.
- NWSL immediately agree to disclose to the Players Association any and all findings, conclusions, and reports that are obtained pursuant to their statement of Oct. 3, 2021, including but not limited to the reopening of the 2015 Paul Riley investigation.
- NWSL agrees to cooperate with the Players Association's own independent investigation by written email to executive director Meghann Burke by the close of business on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021.
- NWSL agrees that representatives of the Players Association have an opportunity to meet with potential commissioner candidates and have a meaningful opportunity to be heard in the selection of the next commissioner.
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Portland Thorns FC players also issued a statement of their own with a list of demands directly to their club and for the role they played during the allegations stemming form 2015. Among them, the players have asked for the club's general manager Gavin Wilkinson to be placed on administrative leave until the new investigation is completed. Wilkinson was part of the front office in 2015 when Shim filed a complaint against Riley.
- That the investigations proceed immediately, and that our GM, Gavin Wilkinson, be placed on administrative leave until the process concludes.
- That there be an increase in the diversity of voices within the club's board of executives.
- That we the players of the club gain seats at the table in order to increase transparency, accountability, and cooperation between the players and the front office.
In a rapid response, the club responded to part of the demands, and announced that Wilkinson has been placed on administrative leave pending the results of the outside independent investigation. Wilkinson is also the general manager of the Portland Timbers in Major League Soccer, but has not been suspended from that role, according to ESPN's Jeff Carlisle.
CLUB STATEMENT:— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) October 7, 2021
Effectively immediately, Portland Thorns FC have placed general manager/president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson on administrative leave from Thorns duties pending the results of the outside independent investigation, which is ongoing.