Courage Fire Paul Riley After NWSL, USWNT Players Call for Investigation Into Sexual Coercion

Paul Riley is accused of making inappropriate comments towards players and coercing some into sexual acts

Paul Riley
Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty

Famed women's soccer coach Paul Riley was fired from the North Carolina Courage shortly after former players accused him of sexual coercion and inappropriate comments in a report from The Athletic.

As part of an investigation, The Athletic spoke with more than a dozen players from teams Riley has coached over the last ten years. Two former players, Sinead Farrelly and Meleana "Mana" Shim went public to accuse Riley — a three-time NWSL champion and two-time Coach of the Year — of coercing them into sexual acts as their coach. Riley has denied the allegations, and has not been formally charged.

Farrelly told the outlet that Riley allegedly bought her drinks during her rookie season and often complimented her looks. This lead to a night where Riley allegedly coerced her into a hotel room where they had sex.

"I felt under his control," Farrelly said.

In another instance, Riley allegedly asked Farrelly and Shim to come to his apartment to use a restroom following a night at a bar. Once there, he allegedly asked the two players to kiss each other to avoid a difficult drill during practice. They did, and Riley invited them to stay the night, but the two women left.

The NWSL Players Association released a statement Thursday in support of the players who accused Riley of wrongdoing.

"We, the players of the NWSL, stand with Sinead Farrelly, Mana Shim, Kaiya McCullough, and each of the players who have brought their stories into the light — both known and unknown," a statement from the organization read, in part. "We cannot adequately capture our anger, pain, sadness, and disappointment."

"The NWSLPA is also providing additional resources for current, former, or future players by making a sports psychologist available," they added.

Riley told The Athletic that he "never had sex with, or made sexual advances towards these players." He maintained that he sometimes socialized with players but did "not take them out drinking."

"I do not belittle my players, comment on their weight, or discuss their personal relationships," he added. However, he said there was "a chance" that he could have offended someone over the course of his career.

He previously coached the Philadelphia Independence of the Women's Professional Soccer, which is now defunct, as well as the NWSL's Portland Thorns.

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In a statement posted to Twitter following publication of the story in The Athletic, the Portland Thorns said, "There is much in the article that we are first hearing about now," adding that some of the alleged incidents "occurred during his two-year tenure in Portland."

"We take all complaints about harassment extremely seriously. Immediately upon receiving a complaint from a player in 2015, we conducted a thorough investigation advised by an outside law firm and placed Riley on administrative leave," the statement added. "While the findings did not show unlawful activity, they did uncover clear violations of our company policies. Based on this, we chose to sever ties with Riley. The findings of the investigation were fully shared with the NWSL league office."

The statement concluded, "The article is a difficult read and there are some horrifying revelations. We have grown since 2015 as an organization and will continue to seek to improve and get better. We will fully cooperate with any additional inquiries into this matter and, more importantly, re-examine our own processes and protocol that are intended to ensure a safe space."

The Courage fired Riley as their head coach on Thursday, in direct response to the allegations addressed in The Athletic.

"In light of today's reports, the North Carolina Courage have terminated Head Coach Paul Riley, effective immediately, following serious allegations of misconduct," the team said.

"The Courage supports the players who have come forward and we commend them for bravely 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."

NWSL players also made statements in support of those who came forward, including Megan Rapinoe. "Mana & Sinead you are so strong & we are with you," Rapinoe wrote in response to a tweet from The Athletic writer Meg Linehan.

Alex Morgan also retweeted Linehan's article, writing: "Mana and Sinead, we support you and are in your corner. I am sickened and have too many thoughts to share at this moment. Bottom line: protect your players. Do the right thing @NWSL."

Sean Nahas has been named as interim head coach of the team for the remainder of the season, the Courage said.

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