NWSL commissioner resigns as sexual abuse scandal engulfs league

Chicago, Illinois - In a simmering scandal that took far too long to reach its boiling point, heads have started to roll at the National Women's Soccer League after an investigation by The Athletic revealed shocking allegations of sexual abuse.

NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird resigned on Friday in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal surrounding long-time coach Paul Riley.
NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird resigned on Friday in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal surrounding long-time coach Paul Riley.  © Collage: IMAGO / Shutterstock & ZUMA Wire

Games canceled, a revolt by the Player's Association, and now the resignation of league commissioner Lisa Baird – over the past three days, the NWSL has been facing a reckoning of epic proportions. And it seems like things are only just getting started.

On Thursday, The Athletic published an astonishing report, detailing more than a dozen soccer players' accusations against now-former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley.

Spanning more than a decade and multiple teams, the complaints run the gauntlet of predatory behaviors: everything from emotional abuse, to Riley getting two players drunk and then pressuring them into kissing for his own amusement.

Carli Lloyd's pro career ends as Gotham falls short in the NWSL playoffs
Soccer Carli Lloyd's pro career ends as Gotham falls short in the NWSL playoffs

Despite the efforts of those two players, Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, to get support from their club at the time – the Portland Thorns – they were left in the lurch not once, but twice.

Riley was eventually dismissed, at least partially on the back of the allegations, but he was allowed to continue his career in the NWSL for another six years, up to his firing from the Courage on Thursday. Throughout this time, the league passed up opportunity after opportunity to act. As recently as this year, commissioner Lisa Baird told Farrelly and Shim that their requests to reopen investigations into Riley would not be granted.

This was the last straw for Baird, who had her resignation accepted on Friday, not long after she announced that this weekend's fixtures would be postponed in the wake of the scandal.

"Burn it all down"

Sinead Farrelly, here playing for the Philadelphia Independence in 2011, retired from pro soccer in 2016.
Sinead Farrelly, here playing for the Philadelphia Independence in 2011, retired from pro soccer in 2016.  © IMAGO / Icon SMI

Meanwhile, US Soccer, FIFA, and what seems like everyone else in between is descending on the NWSL to unpick the sordid details of this institutional failure.

The Player's Union is stepping up big time too, issuing a searing condemnation of "a culture of silence that has enabled abuse and exploitation in our league and our sport."

An anonymous hotline for tips has been set up, and mental health support is available "to any current, former, or future player."

USWNT star Carli Lloyd brings the curtains down on a legendary international career
Soccer USWNT star Carli Lloyd brings the curtains down on a legendary international career

USWNT and OL Reign star Megan Rapinoe minced no words with her reaction on Twitter: "Men, protecting men, who are abusing women. I’ll say it again, men, protecting men, who are ABUSING WOMEN. Burn it all down. Let all their heads roll."

This scandal will definitely keeping rolling on and on.

Cover photo: Collage: IMAGO / Shutterstock & ZUMA Wire

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