In a report published by the Athletic on Thursday, North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley has been accused of over a decade of sexual coercion, misconduct and harassment.
In response, the National Women’s Soccer League Players Association (NWSLPA) released a statement demanding the league conduct an independent investigation, noting that the “systemic abuse plaguing the NWSL must not be ignored.”
“We refuse to be silent any longer,” the players association posted on social media Thursday. “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 in our sport.”
Former players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim went on record with The Athletic detailing the trauma they experienced while playing under Riley. The NWSLPA said they support both players as well as Kaiya McCullough, who shared her experiences of being verbally abused by former Washington Spirit head coach Richie Burke with The Washington Post in August.
The reports made by The Athletic come days after Burke was fired for violating the league’s anti-harassment policy.
The NWSLPA statement continued:
“The very lack of basic and fundamental protections that ensure dignity at work are part of what has led to stories like those that have come out the season.
“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 great control over their lives and careers.”
The NWSLPA provided the league with a list of demands, a timeline on which they would like to see the investigation handled as well as resources for current players to receive professional help and how to anonymously report abuse.
The demands are as follows:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.”
Messages made by USA TODAY Sports to the North Carolina Courage and NWSL have not been returned.
In addition to the Riley and Burke situations, former Utah Royals and Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen was under investigation in August 2020 by the NWSL and MLS for an alleged history of offensive and racist comments made to members of the teams. Hansen took a leave of absence during the investigation and eventually sold both teams.
“The NWSL has failed us,” the league concluded in their statement Thursday. “We are taking our power back.”