After 19 months, Lisa Baird, National Women’s Soccer League Commissioner, resigned amid allegations that a former coach had engaged in sexual harassment.
The league announced Baird’s resignation late Friday night, just days after The Athletic published accounts from two former players who claim that Paul Riley, North Carolina coach, had committed misconduct.
The Courage fired Riley on Thursday. This sparked a storm of criticism from players, which forced the cancellation of this weekend’s games.
FIFA opened an investigation into Friday’s incident. It’s rare for soccer’s international governing body to get involved in a controversy involving an association member. U.S. Soccer announced a separate investigation on Friday.
U.S. Soccer played a key role in the creation of the NWSL in 2013. The league was supported by the federation until its independence last year. The league continues to receive financial support from the federation.
Every person involved in the game has a primary responsibility for player safety and respect. This is true for all ages, competitions and abilities,” Cindy Cone, U.S. Soccer President, stated in a statement. We owe it each and every athlete, fan, and entire soccer community to take every meaningful step possible to prevent this from happening again.
U.S. Soccer has suspended Riley’s coaching licence after The Athletic published allegations of abuse by former NWSL players Sinead Shim and Mana Shim.
FIFA stated to The Associated Press that it was “deeply disturbed” by the situation and will seek further information from American soccer officials about the raised issues.
FIFA stated in a statement to AP that “Due to severity and seriousness the allegations being made players, we can confirm FIFA’s judicial body are actively investigating the matter and have opened a preliminary inquiry.” FIFA will reach out to all parties, including US Soccer, NWSL and US Soccer, for more information on the safeguarding concerns and abuse allegations that have been made.
Farrelly was a former player in the Philadelphia Independence, a now-defunct Women’s Professional Soccer league. Farrelly is accused of harassing Farrelly.
According to her, harassment continued while Farrelly was playing for the Portland Thorns. Shim, who was a former Thorns player, is also accused of being subject to harassment. Thursday’s statement by the Thorns stated that they had investigated Riley’s claims and sent them on to the league, when Riley was fired.
Riley stated that the allegations were completely false to The Athletic.
The league was rocked by outrage over the allegations and the games were canceled this weekend. The NWSL Players Association stated that it hopes fans will understand and support the decision.
The union stated that it was OK to allow yourself to be able to process, feel and take care of oneself. It’s more than okay, it’s essential. This, as players will be our main focus this weekend.”
After serving as the chief marketing officer for the United States Olympic Committee, Baird was appointed to the NWSL commissioner in February 2020. Her efforts to bring new sponsors to the NWSL were praised and she was recognized for increasing the visibility of the league on the national stage.
Jess Fishlock is an OL Reign midfielder who has played in the NWSL ever since its inception in 2013. She suggested that the league and women’s sport overall are in the midst a reckoning.
Fishlock stated that she believes women athletes have been through so much in the past, and not just women’s soccer. “I believe everyone knows what has happened to USA Gymnastics, and this has been happening for many years in women’s sport. We have never felt comfortable enough to discuss it. Or we would be told we were wrong. I believe we are at the point where we are done.
In 2014 and 2015, Riley was the Thorns’ head coach. After being fired by the Thorns in 2014 and 2015, Riley was appointed head coach of Western New York Flash. This was a season before the team was moved to North Carolina.
The NWSL was rocked by recent scandals involving officials during its ninth season.
Richie Burke, Washington Spirit coach, was fired following a Washington Post report detailing verbal abuse and emotional abuse of his players. After an independent investigation, the league officially dismissed Burke and sanctioned Spirit.
Alyse laHue, Gotham FC’s general manager, was fired in July following an investigation into the league’s antiharassment policies. She denied any wrongdoing.
Christy Holly, Racing Louisville coach, was fired in September. However, the reasons were not disclosed.
Farid Benstiti, OL Reign’s coach, abruptly resigned in August. Bill Predmore, chief executive officer of OL Reign and minority owner, said Friday that Benstiti had been asked to resign following an undisclosed incident in practice.
Lindsay Horan, a U.S. midfielder for the national team, had previously accused Benstiti of having sexist comments during his time as Paris Saint-Germain’s coach. Horan claims that she was beaten by Benstiti over her weight.