HomeSportsNWSL coach Paul Riley fired amid accusations of sexual coercion
NWSL coach Paul Riley fired amid accusations of sexual coercion
September 30, 2021
The North Carolina Courage of the National Women’s Soccer League have fired head coach Paul Riley on the same day multiple players came forward with allegations of sexual coercion in graphic interviews shared by The Athletic.
On Thursday, a statement from the players, staff and principal owners of North Carolina Courage confirmed Riley’s firing.
Sean Nahas has been named interim head coach for the remainder of the season, effective Thursday, Sept. 30 at training.
The full statement read: “In light of today’s reports, the North Carolina Courage have terminated Head Coach Paul Riley effective immediately, following very serious allegations of misconduct. The Courage support the players who have come forward and we commend them for bravery sharing their stories. The North Carolina Football Club is united together in our commitment to creating a safe, positive, and respectful environment, not only within our club but across the league and our great sport.
“As previously stated, players and staff are encouraged to report any inappropriate behavior in accordance with NWSL policy as we prioritize efforts to maintain the highest professional standards of conduct throughout our organization.”
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 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.
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.”