NWSL coach Paul Riley fired after multiple misconduct allegations

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FILE – In this Oct. 27, 2019, file photo, Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley watches from the sideline during the second half of an NWSL championship soccer game against the Chicago Red Stars in Cary, N.C. The Courage have fired Riley effective immediately after allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct. The allegations were first reported by The Athletic in a story Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, that detailed misconduct stretching back more than a decade. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker, File)

National Women’s Soccer League’s North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley was “terminated” by the league on Thursday after The Athletic published an investigation into his conduct with players and the NWSL Players Association released a statement addressing his treatment of players.

The Athletic spoke to more than a dozen players from every team Paul Riley has coached since 2010. Sinead Farrelly, 31, and Mana Shim, 29, are two players who went on the record with The Athletic. Farrelly played for the Philadelphia Independence (Women’s Professional Soccer), New York Fury (Women’s Premier Soccer League Elite), and Portland Thorns (National Women’s Soccer League) all at times when Paul Riley was at the helm. Shim was coached by Riley while she played for the Thorns.

NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement Thursday that she was “shocked and disgusted” to read the allegations against Riley. She said the “North Carolina Courage, has reacted swiftly in response to these new allegations, and former head coach Paul Riley has been terminated.”

U.S. Women’s National Team forward and Orlando Pride player Alex Morgan alleged that The Athletic’s report was not the first time Baird had heard about the abuse allegations against Riley. Morgan tweeted out Baird’s statement and said in response, “the league was informed of these allegations multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate the allegations. The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse.”

Morgan tweeted photos of email communication between Farrelly and Baird. Farrelly detailed her experience with Riley and asked Baird to respond by April 30, 2021. Farrelly did not get a response from Baird until Wednesday, May 5. Baird told Farrelly that she “cannot share any additional details” of the 2015 investigation into Riley.

The Thorns said in a statement that they conducted a “thorough investigation advised by an outside law firm and placed Riley on administrative leave” in 2015. “While the findings did not show unlawful activity, they did uncover clear violations of our company policies. Based on this, we chose to sever ties with Riley. The findings of the investigation were fully shared with the NWSL league office.”

Riley left the Thorns that year following the investigation. It is unknown how he was once again able to coach in the league in 2017, this time for the Courage.

The NWSLPA issued the following statement after The Athletic report was released.

The North Carolina Courage issued a statement from their players, staff and principal owner. They named Sean Nahas as their interim head coach.

Women from all over the soccer world have sounded off on the issue since The Athletic’s report was released.

University of North Texas goalie and former Vanderbilt football kicker Sarah Fuller responded to the news.

“It’s honestly kind of scary the things that are taking place in the league. I have friends currently playing, who have been drafted, and I hope to play one day as well. Please for past, present, and future players do the right thing NWSL,” Fuller said.

“Protect the players. Protect women. It’s everyone’s responsibility to hold the standards and enforce accountability. Why are we still dealing with these mostly male transgressions? This is unacceptable,” Portland Thorns forward and Canadian gold medalist Christine Sinclair said.

U.S. Soccer has also suspended Riley’s coaching license.

They said they are working with the NWSL to “ensure meaningful steps are taken to ensure a safe and supportive environment across the league.”

On Friday the NWSL canceled all games scheduled for the weekend.

“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. I am so sorry for the pain so many are feeling. Recognizing that trauma, we have decided not to take the field this weekend to give everyone some space to reflect. Business as usual isn’t our concern right now,” Baird said. “Our entire league has a great deal of healing to do, and our players deserve so much better. We have made this decision in collaboration with our players association and this pause will be the first step as we collectively work to transform the culture of this league, something that is long overdue.”

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