Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan are among the football stars criticising the National Women’s Soccer League, after North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley was accused of sexual coercion and misconduct.
On Thursday, The Athletic detailed allegations of sexual misconduct by Riley, having spoken to more than a dozen players he had coached since 2010.
One player, Sinead Farrelly, claimed Riley coerced her into having sex with him while they were both at Portland Thorns. She also accused Riley of forcing her to kiss another player, Mana Shim, at his apartment.
Since The Athletic’s report was published, North Carolina Courage has sacked Riley, who denies “the majority” of allegations.
In a statement, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said she was “shocked and disgusted to read the new allegations”, and would report the case to the US Center for SafeSport.
Morgan, Farrelly’s former teammate at Portland Thorns, has criticised Baird for her statement. She posted a three-part tweet which revealed Farrelly had informed Baird of the allegations in April.
“The league was informed of these allegations multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate the allegations,” she wrote. “The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse.”
Morgan, a two-time World Cup winner who now plays for Orlando Pride, has been praised for using her influence to hold the NWSL and Baird to account.
One social media user posted: “The fact that Alex Morgan, women’s football and certainly the NWSL’s biggest name right now, is speaking out and holding the league accountable should tell you something.
“This isn’t something new, and I’m glad that SOMEONE with a voice is doing more than repost the NWSLPA [NWSL Players Association] post.”
Rapinoe, the 2019 Ballon d’Or Féminin winner, has also been vocal in her criticism of Baird’s statement.
“Never once during this whole time was the right person protected,” she wrote on Twitter. “Not Mana, not Sinead, not us, not the players, not the little girls who will become us, not the big girls who already are us, not any of US. This statement is beyond disrespectful.”
Riley coached Portland Thorns in 2014 and 2015, then took over at the now-defunct Western New York Flash in 2016.
According to The Athletic, Riley was hired by the Flash despite a complaint over his behaviour that was shared with the NWSL after his season with Portland Thorns in 2015.
North Carolina Courage was founded in 2017 after its owner acquired the franchise rights from the Flash.
Portland Thorns revealed it “conducted a thorough investigation” after receiving the complaint, and upon finding Riley had committed “clear violations of our company policies”, decided to sever ties with the coach.
“The findings of the investigation were fully shared with the NWSL league office,” the Portland Thorns statement said.
The allegations surrounding Riley, who led North Carolina Courage to back-to-back NWSL championships in 2018 and 2019, are just the latest reports of misconduct to emerge from the league.
Last year, Utah Royals owner Dell Loy Hansen was forced to sell the club after reports of racist comments and a sexist culture in the front office. Head coach Craig Harrington was also put on administrative leave after claims of misconduct.
Gotham FC dismissed general manager Alyse LaHue in July after she was found to have violated the NWSL’s new anti-harassment policy, while Washington Spirit head coach Richie Burke had his contract terminated earlier this week after an investigation into allegations of verbal and emotional abuse of players.