USWNT and Orlando Pride striker Alex Morgan on Tuesday called for the National Women’s Soccer League to end the systemic failure that led to a decade of alleged sexual harassment of players by some league coaches.
The North Carolina Courage last week fired coach Paul Riley amid allegations spanning over a decade of sexual coercion and inappropriate comments about players’ weight and sexual orientation.
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The announcement came after The Athletic published an investigation in which it talked to more than a dozen players from every team Riley has coached since 2010 — including two named players, Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly, who went on the record with allegations against him.
Shim and Farrelly joined Morgan on NBC’s “Today” show on Tuesday to speak out about the league’s failure to take action.
Morgan called on the league to be proactive in setting up policies to protect players.
“I’m here to support Mana and Sinead and to continue to amplify their voices, and just show the systemic failure from the league and how wrong they did in handling Mana’s case and complaint and investigation and where they failed Mana and Sinead, and probably many other women,” Morgan said.
“When I look back, I tried to be as good a friend and teammate as possible to Mana in helping her file a complaint, when at the time there was no anti-harassment policy in place, there was no league HR, there was no anonymous hotline, there was no way to report.
“We’ve now started to put these things in place, by demand of players, not by the league being proactive. Something we ask is for the league to start being proactive, not reactive. We’re asking for transparency.”
Shim called for better policies and player protection and spoke of the harassment she endured under Riley.
“He’s a predator. He sexually harassed me, he sexually coerced Sinead, and he took away our careers,” Shim said. “From early on, there was a possession not just from Paul but from the team that I was playing for. They silenced me for multiple issues, my sexuality being the most important one, and, yeah, I was just very, very uncomfortable the whole time.
“And every day I showed up to work, every day I practiced, every game I played, I didn’t have confidence and I was scared. The only thing that got me through was my teammates.”
Farrelly said that she felt going public with the allegations has already raised awareness.
“The support and the validation of this story by everyone globally has just been, has blown me away and really has felt like it has given my pain a purpose,” she said. “Mana and Alex and a couple of other women we worked with, and every person who’s reached out and shown support, has turned this moment into a movement and made this matter.
“They have truly amplified our voices and just made this what it should be, which is a huge deal, and demanding change.”
As a result of the allegations made against Riley last week, Lisa Baird resigned from her post as NWSL commissioner and matches scheduled for this past Friday and Saturday were postponed.
On Tuesday, the National Women’s Soccer League Players Association issued a statement in support of the players and confirmed that matches would continue as scheduled.
“Today, we stand with Mana, Sinead, and Kaiya [McCullough] as they continue to tell their stories. We have made the decision to proceed with Wednesday night’s scheduled competition, but our demands will be forthcoming. #NoMoreSilence,” the statement read.
Global players’ union FIFPRO said in a statement that it was “stunned by the statements of the players regarding their treatment in the NWSL” and called for “long overdue rights” for players in the league.
“We at FIFPRO have seen some of the absolute worst case scenarios that can manifest when women’s football players are disempowered,” FIFPRO said. “In almost every case, the root cause goes far beyond the actions of any one individual, and therefore the remedy must do so as well.”
Riley has denied the allegations.
Earlier this year, the league declined to act on an offer from Farrelly and Shim to assist in investigating further instances when Riley is said to have abused his position as manager.
In its ninth season, the NWSL has been rocked by a series of recent controversies involving team officials and on Tuesday, Washington Spirit majority owner and CEO Steve Baldwin resigned from his post.
Spirit coach Richie Burke was fired after a Washington Post report detailed verbal and emotional abuse of players. The league formally dismissed Burke and sanctioned the Spirit last week after an independent investigation.
The NWSLPA said it was creating an anonymous hotline for players to report abuse as well as making a sports psychologist available for any current, former or future player who needed a confidential consultation.
On Friday, U.S. Soccer said it would launch an independent investigation, appointing former acting Attorney General Sally Yates to lead the task.
FIFA also said its judicial bodies have opened an investigation into the matter.