Paul Riley has been sacked as head coach of North Carolina Courage. (Andy Mead / YCJ Photo)
What do these five former National Women’s Soccer League coaches have in common?
They were either sacked or resigned over allegations of misconduct and / or abuse during what turned into a tumultuous year for the 10-team league (it has since expanded to a dozen teams for 2022).
It seems no team has been spared the scandal as the league celebrated its ninth year as America’s longest-running women’s professional football league in the wake of the Women’s United Soccer Association and Women’s Professional Soccer.
The NWSL was a mess.
Not the players. We are talking about some of the owners and the management of the team.
The players were caught in the midst of these scandals and found themselves as victims and pawns.
Where do we start?
It might be best to summarize the year, incident by incident, in chronological order as much as possible, to give it more context.
On July 2, Benstiti resigned his post as head coach of OL Reign. Exactly three months later, the Washington Post’s Molly Hensley-Clancy reported that Reign CEO Bill Predmore had called for Benstiti’s resignation. In the Post, Hensley-Clancy wrote that “Benstiti had been the subject of a formal complaint for verbal abuse by a player, two sources with knowledge of the situation told The Post after the French coach reportedly commented inappropriate for players regarding their physical form and nutrition.
On August 10, Burke stepped down as head coach of the Washington Spirit due to health concerns and would be reassigned to the team’s front office. A day later, Hensley-Clancy reported that former Spirit defender Kaiya McCullough alleged that Burke’s racist language and verbal and emotional abuse caused her to quit the team.
The club suspended Burke before he was sacked on September 28 after a league investigation.
“After reviewing the substance of the report and taking into account the Spirit’s previous actions, the NWSL Board of Governors determined that the Spirit and its owners had not acted in the best interests of the League,” said the League. NWSL in a press release. declaration. “The Board of Directors further concluded that representatives of the Washington Spirit would not be permitted to participate in League governance matters, effective immediately, and initiated a process whereby Washington Soccer Properties, LLC, must respond to the notice of violation issued by the board of directors within 14 days.
Spirit players asked team owner Steve Baldwin on October 5 to sell the club to co-owner Y Michele Kang.
On August 31, Racing Louisville FC, a 2021 expansion team, said Holly had been fired “for just cause.” Holly previously managed Sky Blue FC (now NJ / NY Gotham FC).
On September 30, The Athletic’s Meg Linehan reported that North Carolina Courage head coach Riley had inflicted sexual and psychological abuse on former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim. Riley, who lived on Long Island for over 30 years, was fired later today.
According to one story, Farrelly played for Riley on Philadelphia Independence, New York Fury, and Portland Thorns. Farrelly said she “felt in control”. She recounted several incidents in which she felt pressured to have sex with her trainer.
âWe, the NWSL players, stand alongside Sinead Farrelly, Mana Shim, Kaiya McCullough and each of the players who brought their stories to light – both known and unknown. Words cannot adequately describe our anger, pain, sadness and disappointment, âthe NWSL said in a statement.
âFor players who suffer in silence, know that the Players Association has a secure space for you. We are ready to provide you with confidential resources and support. You’re not alone.
âWe refuse to be silent any longer. Our commitment as players is to speak the truth to power. We will no longer be complicit in a culture of silence that has allowed abuse and exploitation in our league and in our sport. “
On October 1, Lisa Baird resigned her post as commissioner. She was aware of the sexual harassment of a coach by coaches with players, but did nothing about it.
“This week, and much of this season, has been incredibly traumatic for our players and staff, and I take full responsibility for the role I have played,” Baird said in a statement. âI am so sorry for the pain that many are feeling. Aware of this trauma, we decided not to go into the field this weekend to give everyone a space for reflection. The status quo is not our concern at the moment.
In the wake of the Riley scandal, the league announced that games scheduled for October 2 and 3 were canceled. The five matches were: Racing Louisville FC v NJ / NY Gotham FC, North Carolina Courage v Washington Spirit, Chicago Red Stars v Orlando Pride, Kansas City v Houston Dash and Portland Thorns FC v OL Reign.
On November 22, two days after her team, the Chicago Red Stars, lost to Spirit in the NWSL Championship game, Women resigned. Dames, who had been in charge of the team since 2011 when she was a member of the Women’s Premier Soccer League, had been the longest-serving coach in the NWSL.
Later that day, Hensley-Clancy of the Post reported that seven Red Star players, including Christen Press, Jen Hoy and Sam Johnson, alleged that Dames had been verbally and emotionally abusive as a coach for several years. The Post reported that Ladies are also seeking inappropriate relationships with certain players.
“I think Rory is emotionally abusing players,” Press wrote in a formal complaint obtained by The Post. âThere is no safe distance between him and his players. He uses his power and his status as a coach to manipulate players and get closer to them.
On October 6, the NWSLPA made eight demands of the league:
- Every coach, general manager, board representative and owner voluntarily submits to the Players Association’s independent investigation into abusive conduct.
- The scope of the NWSL investigation announced on Sunday evening, October 4, will be broadened to include an investigation of each of the 12 NWSL clubs represented on the Board of Governors to determine whether any abuses, whether currently known or unknowns, took place at one point. on time.
- The scope of the NWSL investigation needs to be broadened to determine whether a member of the league bureau, a club in the NWSL or someone in a position of power within the NWSL neglected to investigate the issues of the NWSL. abuse raised by a player or employee at any given time.
- The NWSL adopts an immediate ‘step backward protocol’ by which anyone in a position of power (for example, owner, representative on the board of directors, general manager or supervisor of management) at the time a club has hired or terminate the employment of a coach who was, is or will be investigated for abuse or suspended from any governance or oversight role within NWSL.
- The NWSL immediately agrees to release all investigative reports referenced in its October 3 statement.
- The NWSL immediately agrees to release to the Players Association all findings, conclusions and reports obtained pursuant to its October 3 statement, including, but not limited to, the reopening of the 2015 Paul Riley Inquiry.
- The NWSL agrees to cooperate with the Players Association’s own independent investigation through a written email to Executive Director Meghann Burke before the close of business on Wednesday, October 13.
- The NWSL accepts that representatives of the Players’ Association have the opportunity to meet potential commissioner candidates and have a meaningful opportunity to be heard in the selection of the next commissioner.
On October 29, the NWSL accepted the applications.
âToday is a major milestone in protecting player safety, but it’s just the start,â a statement from the NWSLPA said.
On December 15, the NWSLPA launched www.SupportThePlayers.NET, an emergency fund to meet the needs of professional female footballers in crisis.
There was hope for the future.
On October 18, Marla Messing, CEO of the successful 1999 Women’s World Cup, was named the league’s interim CEO.
âFirst and foremost, I am honored to have the opportunity to help lead the NWSL and to fully embrace the very clear need to transform the league so that the well-being of the players is at the heart of every. discussion and decision, âMessing said in a statement. âI also want to salute the bravery and strength of every player in the league to demand the change that should be at the heart of every organization. Earning the trust of our players and uniting players and owners is at the heart of my approach so that we can most effectively create systemic change. “
Gotham FC has also had its problems. Just days before the start of the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup, the club changed their name to Sky Blue FC, angering some TV executives who were forced to change their graphics at the last minute.
On July 16, the club tweeted that general manager Alyse LaHue had been sacked a week earlier (July 9). The team’s decision to fire LaHue was based on the results of a league investigation into a “league policy violation complaint.” Yael Averbuch West, who was appointed interim CEO, eventually took over full-time.
On August 23, Gotham FC announced that head coach Freya Coombe was leaving the squad to lead Angel City FC, an expansion squad that will begin playing next year. Eight days later, Scott Parkinson was appointed head coach.
As it turned out, Angel City FC’s influence around Gotham FC continued when the league fined the expansion club $ 40,000 on November 11 for tampering with the NJ forward. NY Gotham FC Allie Long. Long, a former member of the United States Women’s National Team, is from Northport, NY.
On December 13, the United States Football Association and the USWNT Players’ Association on Monday agreed to a memorandum of understanding to extend the collective agreement until at least March 31, 2022. The ABC included no-strike and no-lockout provisions. .
The MOU also ended the USSF-backed NWSL allocation system, effective next season. This means that USWNT players will have no restrictions on which league they play in, according to the USWNTPA.
“Players who choose the NWSL will sign directly with the NWSL / NWSL club and be employed by the NWSL, thereby becoming members of the NWSLPA,” a statement from the USWNTPA said.
This will allow USWNT players more freedom in signing with teams, at home and abroad. It could very well increase their salaries if several teams are interested.
It is questionable whether the NWSL will survive given the shocking events and the additional financial responsibilities and burdens on owners.
Perhaps one or two billionaires with a good understanding of the human condition will be ready to step in and buy an existing team to ensure the league’s viability.
One thing is certain: the NWSL cannot afford another year of scandals.
Only time will tell.