Former National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) footballers Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly, who last week went public with allegations of sexual coercion against since-fired head coach Paul Riley, say they want more action taken to protect players.
Shim and Farrelly, speaking on NBC’s Today morning show on Tuesday, said they were grateful for the support they had received since they went public and wanted greater measures in place to prevent such actions from being repeated.
The fallout since the allegations against Riley, which were first reported by The Athletic last Thursday, has included the resignation of NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird and the cancellation of all five of the league’s games last weekend.
“This isn’t something that just goes away overnight because we talk about it,” said 30-year-old Shim, who played for Riley with Farrelly at NWSL side Portland Thorns.
“It’s not just this team, it’s not just this coach, it’s across the league, it’s across the sport, and we have to do something about it.”
Riley was fired last Thursday by the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage and his coaching licence was also suspended by US Soccer.
In a statement to The Athletic, Riley denied wrongdoing, describing the allegations as “completely untrue”.
“I have never had sex with, or made sexual advances towards these players,” he told the website.
The NWSL, which is the highest level of women’s football in the United States, has launched an independent investigation into its handling of abuse claims and historical complaints of discrimination, harassment or abuse.
It also created a secure and anonymous reporting platform so that current and former players and staff can report misconduct.
“I want more justice. I want better policies. I want players to be protected,” said Shim. “And at the same time, I feel like we are on the right path and I’m grateful for everyone who has reached out and supported us.”
‘Asking for transparency’
The 31-year-old Farrelly, who played for Riley on three teams, said the support she had received since coming forward has blown her away and “given my pain purpose” but added that she was still affected by the alleged abuse.
“The damage to my self-confidence and how I saw myself, how I approached life, it seeps into every part of your livelihood,” said Farrelly.
“There is a lot of loss that comes with that, and things I will not get back. It’s bigger than the sport … This is about safety in our own lives and our bodies, and the players deserve that, we all deserve that.”
Meanwhile, US national team star Alex Morgan blasted the league for not doing more to protect players from sexual harassment by some of its coaches during the last decade. She was also speaking on NBC’s Today show.
“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,” said Morgan, who won a gold medal with the US Olympic team in 2012.
“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.”
Meanwhile, Steve Baldwin resigned as CEO and managing partner of the NWSL’s Washington Spirit on Tuesday in the wake of coach Richie Burke’s firing following a harassment investigation.
Baldwin said in a statement he decided to resign at the request of players and to avoid being a distraction.
“This was an extremely difficult decision for me,” Baldwin said. “I have no doubt made some mistakes, but my effort and focus were always on building a professional experience for our players.”
Burke was fired after a Washington Post report detailed verbal and emotional abuse of players and the NWSL held a formal investigation. The Spirit were also sanctioned by the league.