Former NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird Resigns from US Soccer Board After Riley Scandal
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Baird already resigned from her duties as the NWSL commissioner amid the fallout from a report by The Athletic’s Meg Linehan about alleged misconduct by former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley.
Sinead Farrelly came forward to tell Linehan she felt coerced into having sex with Riley and that he crossed the line in terms of the typical relationship between coach and player.
Another of his former players, Mana Shim, alleged Riley pressured her and Farrelly to kiss each other in front of him. Shim also said Riley asked her out on a date, and he once invited her to his hotel room for a film session and was wearing only his underwear when she arrived.
Riley denied having had sex with “or made sexual advances towards these players” and said he hadn’t staged film sessions in his hotel room.
Along with the allegations against Riley, Linehan detailed structural failings within the NWSL.
For example, Shim didn’t have a process through which to anonymously file a complaint against Riley with the human resources department of the Portland Thorns, her club at the time. She eventually filed a complaint in September 2015.
The Thorns relieved Riley of his duties upon investigating Shim’s claims, but the results of the inquiry didn’t stop the 58-year-old from getting another job with the Western New York Flash and later coaching the Courage.
On Monday, Thorns owner Merritt Paulson released an apology and said, “We could have done more, which is particularly hard to say as the team that we have held as the highest standard in women’s professional soccer in the world.”
Baird initially addressed Linehan’s report and said last Thursday she was “shocked and disgusted to read the new allegations reported in The Athletic this morning.”
However, Linehan reported Farrelly and Shim both recently reached out to NWSL officials to ask for a new investigation into Riley and were told that “the matter was closed” since it was already looked into in 2015.
Orlando Pride star Alex Morgan shared an email correspondence between Farrelly and Baird in April with Farrelly saying she “not only witnessed by also experienced firsthand extremely inappropriate conduct by Mr. Riley.”
Morgan was one of many notable players who spoke out against the league’s handling of the matter:
Megan Rapinoe @mPinoe
Never once during this whole time was the right person protected. Not Mana, not Sinead, not us not the players not the little girls who will become us not the big girls who already are us not any of US. This statement is beyond disrespectful. <a href=”https://t.co/HDPkFhFEc6″>https://t.co/HDPkFhFEc6</a>
The allegations against Riley were part of a pattern that emerged across the NWSL.
The Washington Post‘s Molly Hensley-Clancy reported former Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke verbally abused his players and made racially insensitive remarks on multiple occasions.
Hensley-Clancy filed another report on the Spirit and wrote the entire organization had allegedly developed a “a toxic work culture for female employees.”
“In the Spirit’s front office, women led many departments, two current employees said, but were routinely shut out of important decisions,” the report said. “Female executives were often overridden by male executives, multiple employees said.”
Elsewhere in the league, OL Reign CEO Bill Predmore confirmed former coach Farid Benstiti resigned after making inappropriate remarks in front of the players.
Similar allegations followed Benstiti at one of his former jobs. Thorns star Lindsey Horan said in a 2019 interview she was criticized by him for her weight and that he was “very brutal with me.”
The NWSL announced Sunday it was forming “several critical investigative and reform initiatives to protect players and staff, and the environments in which athletes live, train, and compete to give athletes the agency and ability to safely report misconduct of any form.”
Gotham FC star Margaret Purce was blunt with her reaction toward the development:
U.S. Soccer also said it retained the services of an outside firm to conduct an independent investigation into alleged “abusive behavior and sexual misconduct in women’s professional soccer.”
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