The players of the National Women’s Soccer League have had enough. After North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley became the latest in a series of high-profile league figures fired after credible accusations of abusive behavior, the NWSL “Player’s Association, as well as many individual players, have sharply criticized the league for a “lack of basic and fundamental protections to ensure dignity at work.”
“In the face of systemic abuse, players demand greater control over their lives and careers,” read a statement posted on the NWSLPA’s Twitter account. The NWSLPA demanded a full investigation of the claims made in The Athletic’s reporting this morning, immediate suspension for anyone found to have violated the league’s current anti-harassment policy, and an explanation of how Riley continued to work in the NWSL despite, as reported by The Athletic, allegations of coercive sexual behavior by Riley leading in part to his dismissal from the Portland Thorns organization in 2015. Riley denies the allegations.
“NWSL is such a joke,” wrote Racing Louisville star Nadia Nadim, whose former Louisville coach Christy Holly was also terminated earlier this season for reasons yet to be made public. “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 … Making their own bogus investigation, keeping it confidential, and then keep having the back of people that’s doing wrong have to stop.”
Nadim, in a subsequent Twitter thread, said she had never been harassed but did accuse the NWSL of failing to act after Gotham FC, then known as Sky Blue FC, forged her signature to execute an extension of her contract that they leveraged for trade assets from Portland Thorns FC in exchange for Nadim’s rights. Additionally, the Danish international alleged that the NWSL pressured her to have surgery for her season-ending ACL injury in the United States and said that “if something went wrong with the surgery outside of US they could consider taking actions against me.”
“They told me that the risk of loosing [sic] a player like me could mean a big loss of income for the league,” Nadim wrote. “Im [sic] just happy that I have a supportive club, Ownership, CEO & Directors that understand that I own my own body, and supports it.”
OL Reign and USWNT star Megan Rapinoe shared her support for the players who made their accusations against Riley public, Mina Shim and Sinead Farrelly, while registering her anger with “everyone in a position of power who let this happen, heard it & dismissed it, signed off on this monster moving to another team w/ zero repercussions.”
Portland Thorns veteran Becky Sauerbrunn, who has played professional soccer since 2005 and endured institutional failures as a member of Women’s Professional Soccer’s disastrous MagicJack club, implored the NWSL to improve their protections of its players.
“NWSL, it’s time to get your s–t together,” Sauerbrunn wrote in a statement posted to Twitter. “We’ve been doing this for over a decade now with two prior leagues’ worth of experience beforehand to inform and guide us. To be where we are now is unacceptable.”
NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird released a statement Thursday afternoon saying she was “shocked and disgusted” to read the allegations as detailed by The Athletic. Baird had told The Athletic that claims dating back to 2015 were “investigated to conclusion” when they resurfaced six months ago. In the statement, Baird said the league was reporting the “new allegations” to the US Center for SafeSport, an organization which gymnast Aly Raisman called a “complete mess” over its involvement with the investigations into team doctor and convicted sex offender Larry Nassar.
Baird also stated that the NWSL would institute a new anonymous reporting process, “whereby players, team and league staff may text concerns to the league, which will be promptly investigated.”
“We ask our players and all associated with the league to raise their concerns to us, as we continue to make our league a safe, positive, and respectful environment for our players, clubs, staff, and fans,” Baird wrote.
Image courtesy of North Carolina Courage twitter