Former players in the National Women’s Soccer League have accused North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley of sexual coercion in bombshell interviews shared by The Athletic.
Players — including Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim — claim Riley’s alleged behavior went on within multiple teams and leagues since 2010.
Farrelly told The Athletic that Riley gave her special attention throughout her rookie season, often buying her drinks at the bar and telling her she was beautiful. After one heavy night of drinking, Riley allegedly coerced her into his hotel room where they had sex.
“I felt under his control,” Farrelly told the website.
In one instance, following a draw at home in Providence Park against Washington, the majority of the team went to The River Pig Saloon, not far from the stadium. Eventually, it was Riley, assistant coach Skip Thorp, and Shim and Farrelly at the bar. Upon leaving, Shim was searching for an establishment to use the restroom, to which Riley offered the bathroom in his apartment. The group went to Riley’s apartment, but Thorp left soon after arriving.
While at the apartment, Riley allegedly asked if the two women hooked up on road trips. They told him they did not. Riley then allegedly asked Shim and Farrelly to kiss each other before they left, and said if they did, the whole team wouldn’t have to run the suicide mile that week — a drill the team hated, according to Farrelly.
Farrelly and Shim kissed briefly, and Riley asked them to stay at his apartment. They turned him down and left, and agreed to not tell anyone.
The team did not run the suicide mile that week.
On Wednesday, Riley responded to a list of 23 questions from The Athletic about his alleged conduct.
Riley stated in an email that the majority of the allegations are “completely untrue.”
He wrote: “I have never had sex with, or made sexual advances towards these players.” He said he sometimes socialized with players and occasionally picked up bar tabs, “but I do not take them out drinking.”
He conceded that over the course of his career “there’s a chance I’ve said something along the way that offended someone,” but he added “I do not belittle my players, comment on their weight, or discuss their personal relationships.” He also denied holding film sessions in his hotel room.
The North Carolina Courage’s statement: “When we hired Paul, we made perfectly clear the expectations of the job and the values of our club, and from what we know, he has lived up to those expectations.
“If there are any players or staff that wish to come forward in accordance with NWSL league policy, we encourage them to report any inappropriate behavior as we will continue to uphold the standard of maintaining a safe and positive environment for all at the club.”
The union representing NWSL players released a statement in response to The Athletic’s story on the same day it was published, with demands to “act swiftly” to protect players “in our first contract negotiation.”
In a series of tweets, the NWSLPA declared “systemic abuse plaguing the NWSL must not be ignored” — and shared three demands, with a deadline of Oct. 1.
The list of demands from players includes the NWSL start a new, independent investigation into the allegations against Riley; that any league or club staff who are accused of conduct that violates the league’s current anti-harassment policy be suspended pending results from the requested investigation; that the NWSL disclose how Riley was hired within NWSL after departing from another club subsequent to an investigation — with the Portland Thorns in 2015 — into abusive conduct.
The NWSLPA provided a sports psychologist for players and said it will supply an anonymous hotline for players to report abuse.
The statement also addresses a report by the Washington Post, which alleges an inappropriate club culture at the Washington Spirit.
On Tuesday, the NWSL announced the Spirit’s former coach, Richie Burke, was fired from the club after an investigation into allegations of verbal abuse was conducted by an outside firm. NWSL also suspended the Washington Spirit from being involved in league business.
The Spirit, according to the Washington Post, have two weeks to respond to the investigation before the NWSL’s board could take further action against the club.
Players have said the NWSL has failed them — and now, “we are taking our power back.”