PORTLAND, Ore. — Players stopped on the field in the sixth minute of Wednesday night’s National Women’s Soccer League games and linked arms in a circle to demonstrate solidarity with two former players who came forward with allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against a prominent coach.
The actions came during games between Gotham FC and the Washington Spirit in Philadelphia and between the North Carolina Courage and Racing Louisville in Cary, North Carolina.
“Tonight, we reclaim our place on the field, because we will not let our joy be taken from us,” the NWSL Players’ Association said in a statement released Wednesday night. “But this is not business as usual.”
The league had just returned to the field after calling off last weekend’s games while it came to terms with the allegations leveled last week against former Courage coach Paul Riley, who was subsequently fired.
Earlier in the day, the owner of the Courage apologized for the franchise’s “failure” to create an environment where players felt safe in coming forward.
Courage owner Steve Malik’s statement in an open letter was the team’s first public comment beyond the announcement of Riley’s dismissal last Thursday. The allegations rocked the league and led to the resignation of National Women’s Soccer League Commissioner Lisa Baird.
Malik said in his letter that the Courage “conducted due diligence” in retaining Riley and the coaching staff after Malik bought the team in 2017.
“We were made aware of an investigation into Mr. Riley’s behavior in 2015 and were subsequently assured that he was in good standing,” Malik wrote. “During his employment with the Courage, we had no knowledge of allegations of sexual harassment or coercion. When we learned of the horrific allegations in last week’s reporting, we took those seriously and immediately terminated Mr. Riley.”
Two former NWSL players, Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, came forward with the allegations of abuse, including sexual coercion, dating back more than a decade. The allegations were detailed last week in a story by The Athletic.
Riley has denied any inappropriate behavior.
He coached the NWSL’s Portland Thorns in 2014 and 2015, when he was dismissed by the team, which had investigated him and shared its findings with the league. Riley then became coach of the Western New York Flash for a season before the team was sold and moved to North Carolina in 2017.
Riley’s firing was the latest in a string of recent scandals involving the NWSL, the top women’s professional soccer league in the United States.
Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke was fired last week for violations of the NWSL’s antiharassment policy detailed in the Washington Post.
OL Reign coach Farid Benstiti was asked to resign in July after inappropriate comments made during practice. Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly was fired last month for reasons that have not been made public, and Gotham FC general manager Alyse LaHue was dismissed for violating the league’s antiharassment policy. She has denied the allegations.
U.S. Soccer and FIFA have announced investigations into the league’s handling of the Riley matter.