The National Women’s Soccer League called off all previously scheduled matches this weekend following player outrage over the latest report of sexual misconduct and harassment by a coach in the league.
Players lambasted league leadership following a report by The Athletic detailing claims that longtime North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley coerced two Portland Thorns players into sexual acts during his tenure from 2013-15.
The Courage fired Riley on Thursday evening. Riley is the fourth coach in the league to be fired for cause due to abuse, sexual misconduct or harassment allegations in the last year.
Commissioner Lisa Baird issued an apology to players, staff and supporters in the announcement from the league.
“This week, and much of this season, has been incredibly traumatic for our players and staff, and I take full responsibility for the role I have played,” Baird said. “I am so sorry for the pain so many are feeling. Recognizing that trauma, we have decided not to take the field this weekend to give everyone some space to reflect. Business as usual isn’t our concern right now. Our entire league has a great deal of healing to do, and our players deserve so much better. We have made this decision in collaboration with our players association and this pause will be the first step as we collectively work to transform the culture of this league, something that is long overdue.”
The Orlando Pride were scheduled to face the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday at SeatGeek Stadium. The team went to the airport Friday morning according to a source, but did not board their flight before the decision to call off the matches was made.
The decision to call off this weekend’s games was made jointly between the league and the NWSL Players Association and will not constitute a strike, according to a source.
The NWSLPA issued a list of three demands for the league on Thursday with a noon deadline for Friday’s collective bargaining meeting, which was scheduled prior to the report.
These demands included an investigation into Riley; the suspension of any member of the league accused of violating the anti-harassment policy; and full disclosure from the league about how Riley was re-hired following a previous abusive conduct investigation.
Orlando Pride star Alex Morgan criticized the league on Thursday for their responses to player requests for investigations into abusive coaches.
Morgan openly challenged Baird’s claims that she was “shocked” by the accusations against Riley. She posted screenshots on Twitter of emails between Baird and Sinead Farrelly, one of the two players involved in the investigation against Riley.
The U.S. women’s national team star said she tried to help Farrelly and her teammates get Riley removed from the league earlier, but continued to face a “culture of silence” that swallowed up reports of abuse and harassment by coaches.
“There definitely has been this shared idea that because two leagues have folded in the past, the NWSL is kind of the last hope for a women’s soccer league,” Morgan said in an interview with The Athletic. “Because of that, 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.”
The league has not announced if or when these fixtures will be rescheduled.
The Orlando Pride are scheduled to play four matches left in the regular season, including this weekend’s game at Chicago.