Prominent U.S. Women's Soccer League Coach Fired Over Sexual Abuse Allegations

The North Carolina Courage terminated head coach Paul Riley after the accusations became public.
Head coach Paul Riley was fired from the North Carolina Courage, years after he was first accused of sexually harassing players while he was coach for another NWSL team.
Head coach Paul Riley was fired from the North Carolina Courage, years after he was first accused of sexually harassing players while he was coach for another NWSL team.
Andy Mead/ISI Photos via Getty Images

A head coach in the U.S. National Women’s Soccer League has been fired after several former players’ accounts of sexual abuse, which reportedly had been communicated to the league multiple times, were made public.

The North Carolina Courage said Thursday it terminated head coach Paul Riley, effective immediately, following “very serious allegations of misconduct.”

He’s the third coach to be fired from the professional women’s league for misconduct since August, prompting calls from the player’s union for measures ending the systemic abuse it said plagues the NWSL.

Riley’s firing came hours after the publication of a report by The Athletic that detailed allegations that he coerced player Sinead Farelly into having sex in his hotel room after a defeat in 2011, when he was coaching the Philadelphia Independence.

In a separate incident, Farrelly and another player, Meleana Shim, said Riley forced the two of them to kiss while they were at his apartment during his tenure at the Portland Thorns.

The NC Courage said it supported the players who came forward and “we commend them for bravely sharing their stories.”

The NWSLPA, the league player’s union, said it was outraged and demanded measures to protect players.

“Words cannot adequately capture our anger, pain, sadness, and disappointment,” the union said.

“We refuse to be silent any longer,” it continued. “Our commitment as players is to speak truth to power. We will no longer be complicit in a culture of silence that has enabled abuse and exploitation in our league and in our sport.”

The union called on the NWSL to act swiftly to protect players.

It demanded a range of measures that would do so, including an immediate independent investigation, the immediate suspension of anyone who violates the league’s anti-harassment policy or fails to report it, and disclosure of why Riley was hired at the NC Courage despite the allegations of abuse.

NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement that she was “shocked and disgusted” by the accusations. But she didn’t acknowledge that the players communicated directly with her about their claims in May.

After the NWSL adopted a new anti-harassment policy earlier this year, Farrelly and Shim contacted the league to ask for a new investigation into Riley, The Athletic reported.

Shim made a formal complaint to the Thorns with the help of a teammate, Alex Morgan, in 2015, which resulted in him being let go, according to the report. However, he was then hired by another team.

On Thursday, following Baird’s statement, Morgan shared screenshots of a May email exchange in which Farrelly implored the league to take action under its new policies. She recounted incidents of abuse she witnessed and endured, and said she was “deeply concerned” for the safety of current players.

According to the screengrabs, Baird thanked Morgan for coming forward and said the “initial complaint was investigated to conclusion,” but she couldn’t share details.

Riley denied the allegations to The Athletic, saying they were “completely untrue.”

The NWSL said it would report him to the U.S. Center for Safesport, a nonprofit organization to protect athletes from abuse. The United States Soccer Federation said in a statement it had suspended Riley’s coaching license.

Many players tweeting their support for the women and their disgust at the misconduct that was allowed to continue.

Megan Rapinoe, captain of the OL Reign, slammed the NWSL’s statement.

“Never once during this whole time was the right person protected,” she tweeted. “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.”

Becky Sauerbrunn, USWNT captain, said the news reporting had shown that players would have to take matters into their own hands.

“To be where we are today is unacceptable,” she said. “The league and every club have to do better.”