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NWSL Object of Player Outrage for Allowing Harassment

“The Athletic” published an article in the last week of September detailing ongoing sexual coercion by North Carolina Courage Coach Paul Riley. Not long after the article’s publication, the team fired Coach Riley. He was the second National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) coach fired that week. The Washington Spirit also fired their coach, Richie Burke, because of his “torrent of threats, criticism and personal insults” towards his players. Both clubs received reports about the abusive conduct before the news outlets published reports about it.

The NWSL’s players union expressed outrage after The Athletic story became public. Riley had lost his first NWSL coaching job with the Portland Thorns in 2015 for policy violations. Players asked the NWSL to look at the investigation when the Courage initially hired him. The NWSL declined to do so. He was allowed to continue coaching until knowledge of his conduct became public. The NWSL did investigate the allegations against Burke. Although the league did not share the results of that investigation, it did bar him from working in the league, and the Spirit’s owners may not participate in league governance.

The NWSL is less than ten years old, and most players receive a salary of less than $35,000 per year. Men make up most of the team owners, coaches, and investors. Just this year, the league finally implemented an anti-harassment policy, but only some teams have human resources department. As a result, the players have had few means to bring forward their complaints. The union asked for immediate action from the league, asserting the league failed the players and tweeting, “SYSTEMIC ABUSE PLAGUING THE NWSL MUST NOT BE IGNORED.” The NWSL Commissioner responded by stating she “was shocked and disgusted to read the new allegations.” However, several players say they shared their concerns with her earlier this year with email evidence to back it up.