By Annika Henthorn
Paul Riley, former head coach for NWSL, has been accused of sexual misconduct by former player Mana Shim. Shim has deemed him a “predator” who continued to “sexually harass” her, according to CNN. Shortly after these claims surfaced, Riley was fired from the North Carolina Courage following an additional investigation. It was also discovered that similar allegations have been brought to their attention prior to those made by Shim. According to their reports, Riley sexually harassed, and in one instance, had sex with a player. As a coach for three different franchises of NWSL for a total of eight seasons, news of this disgusting behavior has been alarming to the entire community. Riley has refuted these claims.
After such shocking news was announced, Lisa Baird, commissioner for NWSL, resigned. However, before doing so, she canceled all league matches the following week. Not long after, Steve Baldwin, managing partner and CEO of NWSL, resigned as well saying that “I have no doubt made some mistakes, but my effort and focus were always on building a professional experience for our players,” according to The Charlotte Observer.
Another former player, Sinead Farrelly, has exposed her chilling experience with Riley. During her time in NWSL, she was coerced into going back to Riley’s hotel room to have sex. Following this incident, Riley pressured Shim and Farrelly to kiss after manipulating them into coming back to his apartment.
These wildly inappropriate acts imposed on his victims have major impacts that do not just affect them as players but as people. Farrelly spoke to NBC and said that “the damage to my self-confidence and how I saw myself and how I approach life seeps into every part of [my] livelihood.” Alex Morgan, a close friend of Shim, has revealed the difficulty that went into filing a simple complaint against the coach. Although her allegations were made years after playing, during the time it was happening there “was no anti-harassment policy in place, there was no league HR, there was no anonymous hotline, there was no way to report,” according to CNN. This fatal flaw within NWSL has perpetuated the abuse that happens behind closed doors, leaving players vulnerable to the power and authority that coaches and staff have.
Allegations of this magnitude have urged NWSL to take a closer look at its system and its shortcomings. NWSL released a statement that it was “immediately launching 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."
Prior to Shim and Farrelly’s brave stand against the abuse, multiple allegations were reported regarding Riley’s sexual misconduct. The lack of action and urgency from these startling claims reveals the true nature of the system behind NWSL. Such disgusting misconduct should be dealt with properly without needing media attention to move the process forward. In cases with USA Gymnastics and now NWSL, systems seem to only change when media pressures require them to. Shim has called out the league “to start being proactive, not reactive.” This powerful statement should resonate with all leagues, and even beyond sports.
"I want more. I want more justice, I want better policies, I want players to be protected,” Shim told NBC. Crisis shouldn’t be the catalyst for change. Through their stories and experiences, Shim and Farrelly hope that sports leagues reevaluate their policies and prioritize the well-being of their players.
Melanie Moyer '22,