USWNT players speak out against Paul Riley and NWSL

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Content Disclaimer: This article contains accounts of sexual assault.

North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley was sacked Thursday following allegations of verbal and sexual abuse of former players, the latest in a string of abuse allegations in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) which led the league to cancel all games this weekend. Detailed in The Athletic, the troubling accusations against Riley reveal a culture of silence in the NWSL that has allowed patterns of harassment, which players are just beginning to highlight.

Former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly (above) and Mana Shim accused Riley of multiple forms of abuse in The Athletic article. Farrelly said she felt pressured to have sex with him on several occasions as he displayed emotionally abusive and possessive behavior towards her. “Over a dozen” players were interviewed, covering all the teams Riley has coached since 2010, as well as additional sources in women’s football.

The players said Riley had crept into their lives as the head coach of the Philadelphia Independence, a team of the now defunct Women’s Professional Football League (WPS). “There’s that feeling that he wants to control your life outside of the stadium as well, whether it’s what you eat or who you see,” a former Independence player told The Athletic. He reportedly paid attention to Farrelly, then a young Independence player who was still finishing college, but then used that link to force her to shy away from opportunities with the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT), she declared. At the end of the 2010 season, Farrelly claimed she felt pressured to have sex with Riley, who told her they would take the secret “to our graves,” she said. . A few months later, Riley visited her in college and again forced her to have sex, she alleged.

Farrelly played for two other teams Riley coached, semi-pro Long Island Fury and the Portland Thorns of the NWSL. She reportedly had more forced sex with him on both teams, including sometimes with other teammates. While the two were with the Thorns, Farrelly alleged that Riley pressured her to kiss her teammate Shim, promising that the team wouldn’t have to perform a conditioning drill if they did. “He was urging us on,” Farrelly said.

Shim alleged that Riley had targeted her using similar patterns: making some sort of connection (which fluctuated between favoritism and harsh criticism) and choosing her for special movie theater sessions and romantic dinners, a she declared. He allegedly forced Shim to dance with him, and Shim and Farrelly both said he texted them inappropriate photos. The players also said he commented on the players’ weight, body, sexual orientation and personal life; when Farrelly started a relationship with a teammate, Riley allegedly told her that she was “too sexy to be a lesbian” and not a “real lesbian” because she had been with a man. Players claimed he took his teams to bars and invited them to sometimes mandatory retreats, creating a social culture with himself at the center.

Through it all, Farrelly and Shim both felt they couldn’t speak because they owed him career opportunities or could be punished if they said anything. The stress eventually led Farrelly to collapse mid-game in 2014, which “seemed like a relief,” she said. She had dreamed of “getting hurt and not having to play anymore”.

Shim, with the support of his Farrelly and Thorns teammate Alex Morgan, struggled to find a way to speak out against Riley for his abuse. When she finally brought it to the Thorns’ attention, the coach was investigated and released, but neither Riley’s reasoning nor abuse was made public. Although the NWSL was aware of Riley’s behavior and the Thorns investigation, he had another opportunity to coach in the league, hired five months later by the Western New York Flash (which later became the North Carolina Courage).

Riley denied the majority of the allegations in an email to Athletic, stating that he had never had sex or “made sexual advances towards these players”, made them drink or commented on the weight or the personal relationships of its players. Like courage announced Riley’s termination, the NWSL issued a statement by Commissioner Lisa Baird, who said she was “shocked and disgusted” by the allegations – despite the fact that, according to the article, Shim and Farrelly had both been in contact with Baird about Riley’s abuse more early this year after the league established political harassment. The players have asked the league to take another look at Riley’s behavior, but the league has only said the investigation is closed and cannot share more information. “The league has been informed of these allegations repeatedly and has repeatedly refused to investigate the allegations, ”Morgan wrote on Twitter in response to the league’s statement. She included screenshots of a email from Farrelly to Baird as good as Baird’s response.

This type of behavior on the part of league and club leaders, which Farrelly called “institutional betrayal”, has been exposed across the NWSL. Earlier this week, Washington Spirit head coach Richie Burke was put on leave following allegations of verbal and emotional abuse of players. front office culture. Further accusations of abuse and sexual harassment throughout the league followed, only coming to light when the players themselves speak out.

And this is where the problem lies, say many gamers. As news of Riley’s alleged abuse broke Thursday morning, stars across the NWSL and USWNT expressed frustration on Twitter and expressed support for the athletes who had to speak out because the league failed failed to protect them. “Don’t ignore this,” wrote USWNT Captain Becky Sauerbrunn of the charges. “Mana and Sinead, we stand behind you and are on your side,” said Alex Morgan. “I’m disgusted … Conclusion: Protect your players. Do the right thing @NWSL.” Megan Rapinoe summed it up this way: “Men, protecting men, who mistreat women”. And in a statement on Twitter, the NWSL Players Association wrote: “We refuse to remain silent any longer … We will no longer be complicit in a culture of silence that has allowed abuse and exploitation in our league and in our sport. ”

Women’s football has struggled to gain a foothold in the United States beyond the USWNT, and players say this culture of silence is the result. “There has certainly been this common idea that because two leagues have folded in the past, the NWSL is sort of the last hope for a women’s football league,” Morgan told The Athletic. “Because of that, I feel like there’s this idea that we should be grateful for what we have and we shouldn’t raise important questions – or ask questions at all.”

Now the league has been warned: enough is enough, and many players are done keeping their mouths on the alleged abuse. “It’s not just something that has happened at a club. It’s systemic and we need accountability,” World Cup winner Meghan Klingenberg wrote on Twitter. “These abusers often have a direct influence on our livelihoods and dreams. No player should have to choose between their livelihood and safety / well-being… We deserve better. Do better.” Read more reactions around women’s football, to come.



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