North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley was fired Thursday after he was accused of sexual coercion by former NWSL players in a report published by The Athletic. The report details Riley's history of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and homophobic rhetoric that spanned more than a decade and multiple leagues. Former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim went on the record to discuss their trauma while playing for Riley.
The Courage announced Riley was fired a few hours after the report was released. "The Courage support the players who have come forward and we commend them for bravely sharing their stories," the team said in a statement, which also named Sean Nahas as interim coach.
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The NWSL Players Association released a statement Thursday, saying the union stands with players "who have brought their stories into the light -- both known and unknown." The player's statement calls for action, an investigation into Riley -- who previously coached the Philadelphia Independence of the now-defunct Women's Professional Soccer as well as the NWSL's Portland Thorns -- and introduced a hotline for players to report abuse. The NWSLPA is also providing additional resources for current, former, or future players by making a sports psychologist available.
"We refuse to be silent any longer. Our commitment as players is to speak truth to power. We will no longer be complicit in a culture of silence that has enabled abuse and exploitation in our league and our sport," the statement read. "NWSL and its Clubs must act swiftly to implement changes that would protect current and future players. The opportunity to do this is right now in our first contract negotiation. In the face of systemic abuse, players demand greater control over their lives and careers."
The NWSLPA is currently in an ongoing negotiation for what would be the first ever collective bargaining agreement for NWSL players. The statement also includes a timeline for the league to respond:
"We, as players, demand the following:
- NWSL initiate an independent investigation into the allegations published by The Athletic this morning pursuant to the Anti-Harassment policy for a Safe Work Environment by 12:00 p.m. EST on Friday, October 1, 2021.
- Any League or Club Stand who are accused of conduct, no matter when it occurred, that violates the current Anti-Harassment Policy for a Safe Work Environment or any mandated reporter who failed to report the alleged reference investigation be suspended immediately, pending the results of the above referenced investigation, and in any event no later than 12:00 p.m. EST on Friday, October 1, 2021.
- NWSL disclose how Paul Riley was hired within NWSL after departing from another NWSL Club subsequent to an investigation into abusive conduct during the bargaining session scheduled for Friday, October 1, 2021."
The NWSLPA statement ended by saying that the NWSL has failed its players.
Several additional sources contributed to The Athletic's report, including USWNT and Orlando Pride star Alex Morgan.
The league responded on Thursday afternoon with commissioner Lisa Baird saying she was "shocked and disgusted by the allegations." Baird's statement also said the league will be mandating background checks and additional screening for team staff and installing a new anonymous reporting system.
"We ask our players and all associated with the league to raise their concerns to us, as we continue to make our league a safe, positive and respectful environment for our players, clubs, staff and fans," Baird said in the statement.
The recent report on Riley comes just days after the National Women's Soccer League released results and consequences of an investigation into the Washington Spirit and allegations against former head coach Richie Burke, who was terminated for cause.