The National Women’s Soccer League Players Association has called for an investigation into allegations spanning over a decade of sexual coercion and inappropriate comments about players’ weight and sexual orientation against North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley.
The statement was released after The Athletic published an investigation in which it talked to more than a dozen players from every team Riley has coached since 2010, including two named players who went on the record with allegations against him.
The players’ union has said that in addition to supporting the two former players — Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim — who came out against Riley, it also backs Kaiya McCullough, who was part of a Washington Post investigation into former Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke.
“We, the players of the NWSL, stand with Sinead Farrelly, Mana Shim, Kaiya McCullough, and each of the players who have brought their stories into the light — both known and unknown. Words cannot adequately capture our anger, pain, sadness, and disappointment,” the statement released Thursday on Twitter said.
SYSTEMIC ABUSE PLAGUING THE NWSL MUST NOT BE IGNORED pic.twitter.com/WlhcWW7R8m
— NWSLPA (@nwsl_players) September 30, 2021
“To the players who suffer in silence, know that the Players Association holds a safe space for you. We stand ready to confidentially offer you resources and support. You are not alone.”
Riley, in an email to The Athletic, said the majority of the allegations are “completely untrue.”
He said: “I have never had sex with or made sexual advances towards these players,” he said. Riley also said he doesn’t “belittle” his players by commenting on their weight or personal relationships.
Farrelly and Shim were also supported by USWNT forward Alex Morgan who wrote on Twitter that she was “sickened” by the allegations.
“Mana and Sinead, we support you and are in your corner. I am sickened and have too many thoughts to share at this moment,” she said.
“Bottom line: protect your players. Do the right thing @NWSL.”
Mana and Sinead, we support you and are in your corner. I am sickened and have too many thoughts to share at this moment. Bottom line: protect your players. Do the right thing @NWSL https://t.co/7TGymLLrvn
— Alex Morgan (@alexmorgan13) September 30, 2021
Megan Rapinoe also expressed her support via social media, calling Riley “a monster.”
Racing Louisville and Denmark striker Nadia Nadim also criticized the league.
“NWSL is such a joke. League wants to see themselves as the best in the world but with this s–t that keeps coming we won’t be more than just a massive joke for the rest of the world. The rest of the world is laughing. We’re nothing but a joke. The players deserve more,” she wrote on Twitter.
The players’ union also called for the suspension of any person working with the league who violated its anti-harassment policy for a safe work environment and an investigation into how Riley was rehired in the league after allegations were first brought against him in 2015.
The NWSLPA also said it was creating an anonymous hotline for players to report abuse as well as making a sports psychologist available for any current, former or future player who needed a confidential consultation.
“We refuse to be silent any longer. 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 our sport,” the statement added.
“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 this 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 greater control over their lives and careers.”
The allegations against Riley are the latest in a long string of controversies to hit the league. On Tuesday, the NWSL announced that Burke would no longer be allowed to coach in the NWSL following an inquiry into his actions.
In August 2020, it was announced that an investigation would be launched into former Real Salt Lake and Utah Royals owner Dell Loy Hansen over the alleged use of racist language. He subsequently decided to sell his interests in both leagues.
ESPN has reached out to the National Women’s Soccer League for comment on the allegations against Riley.