National Women’s Soccer League games will not be played this weekend, in response to a detailed investigation about Paul Riley’s alleged sexual coercion of former players. Riley was fired by the North Carolina Courage on Thursday hours after The Athletic’s report detailed misconduct dating back a decade, as well as failures within the league to address players’ concerns.
All 10 teams were slated to play this weekend, including the Courage, who were due to host the Washington Spirit on Friday night in Cary, N.C.
NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement on Friday that that she takes full responsibility for her hole in the ongoing trauma players in the league have suffered in just the past few weeks alone.
“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. 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.”
Riley’s dismissal came two days after the NWSL announced the conclusion of its investigation into former Washington Spirit head coach Richie Burke, as well as the Spirit organization. Burke was fired “for cause” following that investigation, which was conducted in response to Washington Post reports about verbal and emotional abuse by Burke toward players.
The Post also reported on Thursday that OL Reign fired Farid Benstiti in July for remarks made about a player in regards to fitness and nutrition. Benstiti was originally announced as having resigned. OL Reign president and co-owner Bill Predmore said in a press conference on Friday that he asked Benstiti to resign following that incident.
Racing Louisville also fired former head coach Christy Holly “for cause” in August. Former NJ/NY Gotham FC general manager Alyse LaHue was fired in July following a league investigation in regards to the NWSL’s new anti-harassment policy.
Players across the NWSL on Thursday criticized the league for its inability to protect them. Orlando Pride and United States forward Alex Morgan, who went on record to corroborate the harrowing stories of Sinead Farrelly and Meleana “Mana” Shim in The Athletic’s story, published emails between Baird and the alleged victims to show that the league was contacted months in advance of the report.
“I think we are about done now,” OL Reign midfielder Jess Fishlock said in a press conference on Friday. “I think women athletes specifically have gone through so much over the years not just women’s football. I think everyone knows what’s happened with USA Gymnastics that have kind of gone on. This is something that has been happening in women’s sports over and over and over again, for years and years, and we’ve never felt safe enough to talk about it. And if we ever felt brave enough to talk about it… we were told that we were in the wrong, or we’d be in fear of losing our contracts. I think we’re at a point now where, we’re just done. And if it doesn’t get dealt with appropriately, then we will talk about it.”