Lisa Baird, the commissioner of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), has resigned because of the NWSL’s failure to uphold accountability and prioritize player safety amid abuse allegations from the players. The events that unfolded prior to her resignation began when two players who formerly played for the Portland Thorns, Sinead Farrelly and Meleana Shim, spoke up about the sexual coercion and emotional abuse that occurred between them and former coach Paul Riley. The release of the traumatic news forced the NWSL to make the drastic decision to cancel their games the weekend of Oct. 2 and Oct. 3, 2021, in order to give time for healing for those involved.
Following this announcement, Baird made a statement saying, “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. I am so sorry for the pain so many are feeling.” Their act of speaking up triggered former coach Riley to be fired on Sep. 30, 2021, from the NWSL team North Carolina Courage. However, the exact allegations against Riley were brought to light back in 2015 and ignored. Former NWSL player, Alex Morgan, tweeted on Sep. 30, 2021, proof of email conversations between Baird and Sinead Farrelly regarding Farrelly’s complaints about Riley’s misconduct in which Baird states that “the initial complaint was investigated to conclusion.”
As a result, Farrelly’s situation never reached the public’s eye, allowing Riley the ability to gain other employment coaching NWSL teams outside of the Portland Thorns, such as the North Carolina Courage. The Portland Thorns even thanked Paul Riley for his service after his departure. The lack of action by Baird put additional players in danger, which she was aware of when she made the decision to step down. After her resignation, Baird made that statement announcing her sorrow and shock regarding the abuse and that despite everything, “I am proud of what I did to make the league better.”
Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has occurred within the NWSL. According to the Washington Post, “In total, four NWSL teams have seen their male coaches leave after allegations of misconduct this summer.” This emphasizes the incredible need for a safer and more accessible place for players to report allegations as well as more in-depth investigations into these allegations. In fact, U.S. Soccer tweeted on Oct. 1 that they will investigate the allegations relating to Riley and highlighted their priority of player safety.
The allegations against Riley upset many people deeply. The Athletic highlights the protests that occurred outside of Providence Park (the home stadium to the Portland Thorns), holding signs with messages such as “Protect the Players” and “Fair Contracts Now.” This issue has also been talked about extensively over social media, specifically Twitter, in which the hashtag #NoMoreSilence has been used by the NWSL. Other major worldwide soccer organizations, such as FIFA and Canada Soccer, have expressed their support for increasing player safety.
Farrelly, Shim and Morgan continued to speak up in an interview with Today News where Shim said, “He’s a predator, he sexually harassed me. He sexually coerced Sinead, and he took away our careers.” Women’s soccer, however, is not the only professional sports organization speaking up about the abuse within their teams. This also occurred with the U.S. women’s gymnastics team testifying against Larry Nassar’s abuse. The NWSL case is still being investigated and a larger solution has yet to be determined.
If you or anyone that you know has experienced/is experiencing any sort of abuse/mental health crisis and requires more support, please refer to the following hotlines for help:
Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255