NWSL Cancels Matches After Allegations of Coach's Sexual Coercion, Players Say It's 'Far from Over'

"Business as usual isn't our concern right now," NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird wrote in a statement after Coach Paul Riley was accused of sexual coercion

Paul Riley
Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty

The National Women's Soccer League has canceled all matches this weekend, following allegations of sexual coercion and inappropriate comments against Coach Paul Riley of the North Carolina Courage.

Following an explosive report by The Athletic and Riley's subsequent firing, NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird announced on Friday that matches would cease temporarily to give those affected "space to reflect."

"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," Baird said in a statement. "I am so sorry for the pain so many are feeling."

Baird continued, "Recognizing that trauma, we have decided not to take the field this weekend to give everyone some space to reflect. Business as usual isn't our concern right now. Our entire league has a great deal of healing to do, and our players deserve so much better.

"We have made this decision in collaboration with our players association and this pause will be the first step as we collectively work to transform the culture of this league, something that is long overdue," she concluded.

As part of their investigation, The Athletic spoke to more than a dozen women who were coached by Riley over the past decade. Sinead Farrelly and Meleana "Mana" Shim came forward, accusing Riley of coercing them into sexual acts when he was their coach. Riley has denied the allegations, and has not been formally charged.

In response, the North Carolina Courage took immediate action and fired Riley as the coach. "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 in a statement on Thursday.

"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," the team added.

The NWSL Players Association also released a statement in support of the players who came forward about Riley's alleged wrongdoings.

"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," the NWSLPA added.

After the decision to call off this weekend's matches, the players association issued a statement on social media, noting that the claims involving Riley and how the league will address them are "far from over for any of us."

"As players, we hope that those who read this statement will hear that it is ok to not be ok. It is ok to take space to process, to feel, and to take care of yourself. In fact, it's more than ok. It's a priority. That, as players, will be our focus this weekend," Friday's statement said in part.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to rainn.org.

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