Scandal that broke the national women's soccer league
As the fall soccer season starts to slow down, the National Women’s Soccer League is finally getting the platform it deserves. Sinead Farelly, Savannah Guthrie, and Meleana "Mana" Shim are names most of you have never heard of. Recently, however, they have been the three most discussed names in women’s soccer.
In September 2021, writer Meg Linihan of The Athletic wrote a groundbreaking piece on the alleged abuse these women, and many more, have faced under coach Paul Riley. This alleged abuse lasted in a continuous pattern for over eight years, and only in the past month has it finally stopped. This controversy has shed light on flaws in the National Women's Soccer League.
To begin with, who is Paul Riley?
He is a successful coach, who led the North Carolina Courage to two NWSL Championships, three-consecutive NWSL Shields and the 2018 Women's International Champions Cup. That is impressive, but is winning worth it?
According to accusers and Portland Thorns’ Human Resources Director, Garcia Ford, who fired Riley after an investigation into Farelley and Shim’s accusations, the wellbeing of players is more important than any title. Sinead Farrelly, whose story goes back to 2011, claims she was forced by Riley to turn down a spot on the United States Women's National Soccer Team. Riley allegedly threatened and harassed players into positions that would make them choose between either themselves or their team. According to the complaints filed, these women always choose the team.
Lisa Baird, ex-NWSL commissioner, was emailed several times during quarantine by complainants Sinead Farelly, Savannah Guthrie and Meleana "Mana" Shim. Farelly, Guthrie and Shim say their emails were treated as if they were asking for better water bottles as opposed to reporting abuse. On April 28, 2021, Farelly wrote, “I am bringing this to the League’s attention so that I can understand what steps, if any, the League intends in connection with the inappropriate conduct that was initially reported, given the apparent failure of the NWSL to take any action to protect players in response to the initial complaint.” According to NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird resigns amid misconduct allegations leveled at Paul Riley, “Baird's response to an email from Farrelly -- which was revealed in a tweet from Orlando Pride and U.S. women's national team forward Alex Morgan -- was to state in part that, "We reviewed our files and I can confirm that the initial complaint was investigated to its conclusion. Unfortunately I cannot share any additional details.” Since then, Lisa Baird has resigned as NWSL commissioner and Paul Riley was terminated from his latest position as coach of the North Carolina Courage, after The Athletic broke the abuse allegations. Richie Burke, coach of the Washington Spirit, has also been terminated after an investigation into accusations that he was verbally and emotionally abusive to his players. Burke created a toxic work environment according to Washington Spirit Coach Richie Burke Was Fired After An Investigation Into Abuse .
Since the NWSL shake up, in order to show support for victims, NWSL teams have been huddling together at the sixth minute of each game in silence. They chose the sixth minute to resemble the six years it took for people like Sinead Farelly to share their voices.
I was recently at an NWSL game of Gotham FC versus Washington Spirit. As both teams put their arms around each other at the sixth minute, the stadium went silent; it was an unforgettable moment. We all are watching history happen, as women’s stories of abuse are being taken more seriously. As a nation, we are moving forward, but this is only the beginning. We can do our part to protect people by supporting local teams and organizations, being kind, and diminishing the toxic stigma around equality in women’s sports.