NWSL roiled by Paul Riley revelations -- can the league and its commissioner survive tsunami of bad news?

Will the NWSL survive?

Will its commissioner, Lisa Baird, keep her job?

Those are just some of the questions being asked in the wake of Meg Linehan's reporting in The Athletic on Paul Riley and accusations of sexual coercion and misconduct made by two of his former players, Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim.

Farrelly detailed that while with WPS's Philadelphia Independence in 2011 Riley, who was the team's head coach, would buy her shots and take the team out drinking at bars, and one night she was coerced into having sex with him and spending the night in his hotel room. Early in the season, Farrelly was called up to the U.S. national team preparing for the World Cup in Germany. She said she turned down a second call-up after Riley told her she had been disloyal to the Independence and to him.

Riley coached Farrelly at the Long Island Fury in 2012 after the WPS folded and at the Portland Thorns, where he was hired in 2014 following the resignation of head coach Cindy Parlow Cone, now U.S. Soccer president. Farrelly charged that Riley's misconduct continued while she was on the Thorns in 2014 and 2015, and Shim also detailed inappropriate behavior by Riley after evenings of drinking in 2015.

In 2015, Shim went to the Thorns with the incidents that took place between Riley and her. Shim was interviewed by the Thorns human-resources director as part of the club's investigation advised by an outside law firm, as was Farrelly in relation to Shim's accusations, but not her own. Shim told The Athletic she was told she "did not have a legal claim" because she was unable to provide corroborating evidence -- she had deleted her texts from Riley.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the Thorns stated that "while the findings did not show unlawful activity, they did uncover clear violations of our company policies." Based on this, they said they did not renew their agreement with Riley and the findings of the investigation were shared with the NWSL league office. Nothing about the investigation was mentioned in the release issued by the Thorns when they announced Riley would not be retained for the 2016 season.

In his email to The Athletic that it published in its story, Riley said he was interviewed and cleared by the Thorns after their investigation and his contract was not renewed "because our results were not very good and I was interested in returning to the East Coast for a host of different reasons, including marriage and businesses.” He also said the majority of the allegations were “completely untrue" in response to a list of 23 questions submitted by The Athletic about his conduct. “I have never had sex with, or made sexual advances towards these players," he said.

Riley's NWSL coaching career didn't end after the 2015 season, though. He was hired to coach the Western New York Flash, which won the 2016 league title. After the Flash folded, he was hired to coach the North Carolina Courage, which won regular-season titles in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and the postseason championship in 2018 and 2019.

Following The Athletic's publication of its story on Riley, the NWSL issued a statement from Baird in which she said she was "shocked and disgusted to read the new allegations reported in The Athletic this morning" and Riley had been terminated. (Later in the day, U.S. Soccer suspended his coaching license.)

Farrelly used the phrase "power imbalance" in her interview with The Athletic to describe her relationship with Riley, who would hold week-long “retreats” at his 10,992-square-foot home on Long Island, according to The Athletic. As Linehan wrote, "His success, his credentials and his wealth – generated mostly from a successful youth club and soccer school – made him, as one former player put it, 'like a god.'"

"Power imbalance" (an instance where sexual misconduct may occur because effective consent can't be given) came from the NWSL's anti-harassment policy for a safe work environment that was issued in early April and which Baird referenced in her statement.

The Athletic reported that both Shim and Farrelly wrote to Baird after their cases. On April 28, Farrelly emailed Baird, saying that while with the Thorns:

1. She “not only witnessed but also experienced firsthand extremely inappropriate conduct by Mr. Riley;"
2. She reported to the Thorns about her experiences in a separate investigation into Riley in 2015; and
3. No one from the NWSL or the Thorns independently investigated her allegations.

Farrelly said she was writing in response to the issuance of the new policy and she wanted to know what steps the league would take to protect players from Riley, who continued to coach in the league, and she was available for an interview to discuss the matter further.

A week later, Baird emailed back that the NWSL took the safety of its players seriously, referencing the league's new anti-harassment policy, but said "the initial complaint was investigated to conclusion."

The email exchange appeared in a series of tweets sent by U.S. national team star Alex Morgan, who had played with Farrelly and Shim on the Thorns and helped Shim get her complaint against Riley investigated by the Thorns.

The difference in tone to Baird's response to Farrelly's request that the league hear out her concerns and her statement after The Athletic published Farrelly's account was shocking.

"The NWSL has failed us,” the NWSL Players Association said in a series of tweets about what it described as "basic and fundamental protections that ensure at work" and "systematic abuse." Farrelly described to The Athletic what has happened as "institutional betrayal."

In the last 30 days, two other head coaches -- Racing Louisville's Christy Holly and Washington's Richie Burke -- were fired for cause. Details of Holly's termination have not been released. Burke was first placed on administrative leave, then terminated following an investigation into emotional and verbal abuse detailed by the Washington Post. In July, Gotham FC general manager Alyse LaHue was dismissed for violations of the league’s anti-harassment policy, allegations she denied.

What makes the Riley case even more concerning for the league is the two teams at the heart of the case -- the Thorns and Courage -- are arguably its two flagship clubs, not one of the teams with a long history of off-the-field issues, like Gotham FC or the Spirit. The NWSL will introduce two new clubs in 2022, based in Los Angeles (Angel City FC) and San Diego, both with female management and female coaches. The boost they will give the league won't counter the tsunami of bad news.

Meghan Klingenberg, who has played for the Thorns since 2016 and been active in the USWNT Players Association, tweeted in reference to Riley's coaching path, “It is enraging that the NWSL knew about this abuse and allowed the abuser to be rehired."

Klingenberg, who started for the USA at the 2015 World Cup, began her pro career at magicJack in WPS. In her tweet, she said WPS folded due to "these abuse issues." WPS folded after the 2011 season following a legal dispute between magicJack owner Dan Borislow, who was accused of sexual harassment, and other league owners.

Two years later, U.S. Soccer launched a new scaled-down Division I women's league. The NWSL has always been a struggle. Of the original eight NWSL teams, three folded in the first five years. The Thorns averaged more than 20,000 fans a game in 2019, but most teams still average in the 3,000-4,000 range. The minimum salary is $22,000 in 2021. The NWSLPA has started a #NoMoreSideHustles campaign to highlight the low pay of its players.

Given the failure of WUSA (2001-03) and WPS (2009-11), Morgan told The Athletic, "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.”

Unlike the USWNTPA, which has had a collective bargaining agreement since 2001, the NWSL does not have a CBA with its players even though the NWSLPA was recognized by the league in November 2018. (The USLPA, which was recognized by the USL the same month, reached an agreement in principle for the USL Championship's first CBA on Wednesday.)

The next first CBA bargaining session between NWSL and NWSLPA representatives is scheduled for Friday. In its statement, the NWSLPA demanded:

1. An independent investigation into The Athletic's allegations be initiated by Friday noon ET;
2. The suspension of any league or club staff member accused of violations of the NWSL anti-harassment policy, no matter when it occurred, or anyone required to report the alleged conduct and failed to do so, pending the outcome of the independent investigation, by Friday noon ET;
3. The NWSL disclose how Riley was rehired within the league after the Thorns' investigation at Friday's bargaining session.

“We are taking our power back," the NWSLPA stated.

That did not appear to be enough for OL Reign star Megan Rapinoe. In response to a tweet asking who else was complicit in keeping Riley in the league and who else needs to go, she replied, "Burn. It. Down."

Photos: Paul Riley: Andy Mead/ISIPhotos.com; Sinead Farrelly (right) with Alex Morgan in 2011 WPS championship game: Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire.

21 comments about "NWSL roiled by Paul Riley revelations -- can the league and its commissioner survive tsunami of bad news?".
  1. jim broshar, October 1, 2021 at 12:58 p.m.

    can the league and its commissioner survive?
    How about "should"? 

  2. Guy Walling, October 1, 2021 at 2:40 p.m.

    Everyone involved in covering up the crimes allegedly placed upon Paul including Paul himself most of all, if found guilty in a court of law should ALL due time in prison!! These are serious offenses as we have all seen in the the entertainment business, college football (Penn St.) and across the pond in some professional club academies. All sick, sick people! 

  3. Wooden Ships replied, October 1, 2021 at 4:06 p.m.

    I believe this is the first thing I've agreed with you on Guy. Don't care for Pino's Antifa verbiage. 

  4. frank schoon replied, October 1, 2021 at 4:24 p.m.

    Guy, Our current president as senator likewise was accused  by an intern but nothing happened and there is plenty of prove for this one....

  5. Santiago 1314 replied, October 1, 2021 at 9:38 p.m.

    John. "EMBARRISSING".??? I guess if it didn't come out, It would be OK to you....as for Politics; How about News Anchors..??? Presidents and Former Presidents.??? ...When you let The Powerful "Pass", How do expect to keep the "Lower" Echelons from doing the Same... "The Fish Stinks from the Head"... This Country Stinks right Now... It's been going on Slowly for Years....Now,  "American Exceptionalism" is on the Decline, Getting Swifter and Steeper and Faster... Almost DAILY.!!!... 4,900 more Murders in the USA over 2019... 15,000 Black People under a Bridge in Texas, Dead Soldiers in Debacle of Afganistan Retreat....Womens Soccer Team is caught up in all this....Kneeling during National Anthem.....I wonder how Many of them have Suffered this kind of Abuse... Look at the effect it had on the Best Gymnast in the World... A Society OUT OF CONTROL... BORDERS, LANGUAGE, CULTURE... Without those "Binders" you have MUSH...Nothing to Fight For... Clean House on NWSL and Start a WMLS... Let's put Our "Equity" where our Mouth is.!!!... Take Some Money out of the 6 Trillion that Dems are going to Pass and give the Gals Equal Pay. (Sarc) Like that's going to Solve it.!?!?!?.... At least the Men's National Team is in Ascendancy.... USA, Usa, usa.....Sad Isn't it.???

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, October 2, 2021 at 12:13 p.m.

    What crime? Immoral, yes. Bad management, yes. Yet I don't see a basis in the news reports for concluding that the conduct was illegal.

    Why would someone suggest that the league suffer because of the scandal. 

    What bothers me most is why something has to be a public national scandal before any corrective action is taken. 

    The problem is that too many people in this country think a male's sexual "conquest" of women is some kind of game. It permeates our culture. Take a look at our movies, jokes, and television shows. It permeates our society to the extent that even male nominees for the US Supreme Court are excused from accountability.

    I can't help but conclude that this sexual objectification of women also accounts for the disgraceful amount of sexual assaults and the great reluctance of victims to report sexual assaults. 

  7. Santiago 1314 replied, October 3, 2021 at 10:25 p.m.

    "Bend it Like Beckham" must be a Really NO View movie nowadays.!?!?!?

  8. John Soares, October 1, 2021 at 5:47 p.m.

    This is an embarrassing mess that needs to be addressed and cleaned up, NOW 

    Side note, anytime, anyone brings politics and/or politicians into the argument/discussion 
    Your soccer credibility goes down 

  9. Wooden Ships replied, October 1, 2021 at 8:29 p.m.

    He started it, lol. I felt that way about kneeling and other expressions of contempt. You?

    Hopefuly, evidence that's factual will bring about prosecution. 

    John, I trust that you would disagree with SA canceling some opinions? 


  10. frank schoon replied, October 1, 2021 at 9:01 p.m.

    John , I 'm not worried about my soccer credibility as viewed in your eyes.  But your credibility surely as a person has gone down when you fail to recognize sick male puppies regardless of their stature , regardless of profession...

  11. Santiago 1314 replied, October 1, 2021 at 9:41 p.m.

    John, my post got put above yours

  12. John Hofmann, October 1, 2021 at 9:24 p.m.

    I would be the first to admit that I really cannot recall the specific details of the issues that were raised with Biden.  My faint recollection is that he tended to be a 'hands on' person (I have known a number of them in my lifetime, both sexes, who were that but were never thought of as a sexual predator which is what Riley is being accused of.  There is a huge difference between those two situations.
    Currently our country is facing a HUGE problem in discussing almost anything.  People tend to misquote, misquide, mistake facts and figures, recollections, or even merely very fuzzy feelings from the past.
    Rarely does anyone take the time or trouble to go back and review what the cited, which means we continue to create more and more ill-will based upon, quite frankly, a foundation of crap.
    I long for the old and nearly fogotten days when people making public comments thought carefully about what they were going to say, or describe, and actually spent the time to (amazingly) cite specific examples of what they refer to, from qualified sources.

  13. frank schoon replied, October 1, 2021 at 9:46 p.m.

    John, her name is Tara Reade, who as an intern worked in Biden's office. Look her up and read about it. MSM , and the women's groups didn't want to go after their guy, obviously.....

  14. Santiago 1314 replied, October 1, 2021 at 9:57 p.m.

    Right John H;
    4,901 More Murders according to NPR
    15,000 Hatians according to DHS Head Mayorkas in"The Hill.
    13 Dead Soldiers and an Innocent Afgan Family Droned to Death... How many Sources do you need me to "Site" on that....Yeah, Everything is Just  Great.!?!?!?

  15. Bob Ashpole replied, October 2, 2021 at 7:13 p.m.

    Frank, regarding Tara Reid, there is nothing in her claim to pursue. She was an intern in his office 31 years ago. She was apparently had a bad reputation with people who knew her. So it would come down to Reid's word against dozens of witnesses., End of story. Nobody is getting away with anything. 

  16. frank schoon replied, October 2, 2021 at 10 p.m.

     Bob, I don't want get into this for it is not something that I have spend time or even want to spend time on.  But I do know when this happened 31 years ago she actually had mentioned the incident to close friends but she let it go for I can imagine her being in a very difficult situation working there. But regardless I can't prove it happened. But saying that she had a bad reputation with people who knew her does not ptove that it didn't happen. And furthermore there were no witnesses that can disprove what she claimed.  

  17. Bob Ashpole replied, October 3, 2021 at 4:18 a.m.

    No Frank, she said that 30 years earlier she told a few friends. That is different than friends coming forward to say that they were told 30 years ago. In fact her claim opens the courtroom doors for witnesses to say that she did not tell them. The more details, the more opportunites to call additional witnesses.

    So it is her word against many other witnesses, not just one. That is how investigators evaluate sexual assault claims. Victims who fail to timely report crimes make it very difficult for law enforcement to build a case.

  18. frank schoon replied, October 3, 2021 at 8:29 a.m.

    Bob, she had mentioned to some acquaintances 30 years ago about an unpleasant experience she had with Biden . I didn't  say friends came forwards but her mother apparently did 30 years later but didn't name the senator involved but somehow the media found out who it was. 

    She isn't like the ones who came out of the woodwork like  in the Kavanaugh case that never said anything all these years , who were so unbelievable unlike Tara who let it be known to some friends the time it happened. 
    She did state she reported to officials in congress but they can't find the paperwork. They couldn't find the paperwork, I'm SHOCKED!!! <sarc>which is not surprising, considering who it was. Biden also was known to have run  around with Ted Kennedy, another upstanding individual with women and  his friends. And looking at Biden's offspring, this all has become laughable. The powerful tend to protect each other as is in the Kopechne case.  Yes Bob, nothing surprises me anymore.


  19. John Soares, October 1, 2021 at 10 p.m.

    Mr ships...I'm in TOTAL agreement with you!

    Mr Schoon... you, (probably intentionally) misunderstood my intention. The " sick male puppies" should go to jail.. or at least thrown out of soccer forever.

    However, when  (outside of soccer) politics, politicians and issues 
    are thrown in to the discussion perhaps just to raise the blood pressure it distracts from the issues at hand and does nothing to resolve the problem..... but you know that :)

  20. frank schoon replied, October 1, 2021 at 10:26 p.m.

    John, like I say, regardless of profession, or political standing. But some how these politicians are getting away with it especially when it comes to the Democratic Party who are whole heartedly supported by the msm and by women's groups who support the dem.party and therefore are more protected .Paul Riley is just a small fish who got caught as compared to so many political scumbags who get away with it due to party affiliation... This thing is much bigger than Paul Riley, our gov't leaders need held more accountable .

  21. Guy Walling, October 2, 2021 at 8:37 p.m.

    Wooden Ships, now that was a good read! LoL!

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