North Carolina Courage fired coach Paul Riley shortly after a published report detailed allegations of sexual assault and misconduct.
The alleged misconduct, which includes claims of sexual coercion, goes back more than a decade, according to a detailed account by The Athletic on Thursday.
National Women’s Soccer League commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement that the league is referring the allegations to the US Center for SafeSport for investigation.
The league, in its ninth season, is also mandating that anyone who interacts with players attend training with SafeSport and is subject to background checks and additional screenings.
NWSL is also implementing a new anonymous reporting process and has vowed to investigate all reports promptly.
“A safe and secure work environment is a top priority for the League and its collective ownership,” Baird said in a statement.
The Courage issued a statement on behalf of the team owners, staff and players appreciating the women who came forward.
“North Carolina Football Club stands united in our commitment to creating a safe, positive and respectful environment not only within our club but throughout the league and our great sport,” the statement read.
Courage appoints assistant Sean Nahas as interim head coach for the rest of the season
Former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim recount their experiences with Riley to The Athletic. Farrelly’s alleged harassment began in 2011 when she was a player with the Philadelphia Independence of the Women’s Professional Football League.
She told the website that while Farrelly was with the Portland Thorns, the abuse continued. Former Thorns player Shim also reportedly experienced harassment. Both women are no longer playing in the NWSL.
Riley told The Athletic that the allegations were “completely untrue”.
Riley was the head coach of Thornes for two seasons in 2014 and 2015. After being sacked by the Thornes, he became head coach of the Western New York Flash for one season before the team was sold and moved to North Carolina.
Riley was WPS Coach of the Year in 2011 and earned similar honors in the NWSL in 2017 and 2018. Courage won the NWSL Championship in 2018 and 2019.
Thornes investigated Riley while with the team and reported the findings to the league.
“While the findings did not show illegal activity, they did highlight a clear violation of our company policies. Based on this, we decided to sever ties with Riley,” Thornes said in a statement.
The statement also said: “The article is a hard read and has some terrifying revelations. We have grown as an organization since 2015 and we will continue to improve and do better. We will fully cooperate with any additional inquiries into this matter and More importantly, re-examine our procedures and protocols to ensure a safe space.”
Courage and World Cup winning US national team player Sam Mavis posted his support for Farrelly and Shim on social media.
“The physical and psychological safety of players is of utmost importance in the NWSL,” Mavis wrote. “I’m still processing and considering how I can be part of creating a safer environment for players.”
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