Rosemary Chesney, asst. sports editor
On Sept. 30, The National Women’s Soccer League fired Paul Riley, head coach of the North Carolina Courage, for sexual assault allegations from his players. The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is banding together to further investigate Riley’s case and create resources to prevent future sexual abuse cases.
Former player Sinead Farrelly said in an article from The Athletic that Riley coerced her into having sex with him. In an article from CBS news, Farrelly and colleague Mana Shim, whom Farrelly played with on the practice team in 2014 and 2015, admitted that under the influence of alcohol, Riley forced them to kiss each other with the reward of having an easier exercise at their next practice.
“We refuse to be silent any longer,” a statement released by the National Women’s Soccer League Players Association said. “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.”
Riley began his soccer coaching career in 1987 as an assistant for the C.W. Post, a private university located in Brookville, NY. In 1997, he became the head coach of the Long Island Rough Riders and in 2006 the Long Island Fury. He was named coach of the year twice during his career. In 2013, Riley began coaching the Portland Thorns before the North Carolina Courage. In 2015, the Thorn team filed a complaint about Riley which resulted in no discovery of illegal activity but “violations of our company’s policies.”
Riley is the second NWSL coach to be fired for sexual assault allegations in a two-month span. In August, Richie Burke, head coach of the Washington Spirit, was fired due to harassment allegations. Associate Professor of Pyschology, Victor. Bissonnette, said that he followed the case closely.
“The first thing I would want anyone to know about sexual assault is that it almost never has anything to do with sex,” Bissonnette said. “Sex is the subject matter, but what’s really going on is the management of power and control. The abuser is assuming power over [the victim.] That’s what the abuse is really about.”
After Farrelly and Shim came forward, the National Women’s Soccer League Players Association (NWSLPA) formulated a statement to send to the NWSL demanding further investigation. This statement called for investigation into the allegations against Riley, suspension of anyone suspected of harassment and disclosure of how Riley was hired after previous allegations against him.
The NSWL responded by saying that they were “shocked and disgusted by these allegations.” Increased background checks and screening as well as a new annonymous reporting system will be implemented for team staff according to former commissioner, Lisa Baird.
“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 said in a statement on CBS news.
On Oct. 1, amid the allegations against Riley, Baird resigned from her position as commissioner.
According to investigative reporter for the Washington Post, Molly Hensley- Clancy, in an interview with PBS News Hour players in the NWSL can be traded at any moment, despite how long they’ve played for the team. Many sexual assault victims are afraid to go on record Hensley- Clancy said because they make about $30,000 a year and would not be able to get by without their job.
Bissonette said that the reason many sexual assault victims refuse to come forward is that they blame themselves. He also said that many don’t come forward because they feel alone in the situation.
“The most common and healthiest way of overcoming the oppression of this kind of harassment is a community response,” Bissonette said. “We as a community [need to] all stand and say, ‘no that’s wrong, that’s not who we are as people.’ When you see an institutional, organization and community level response working together, we can diffuse the power.”