It’s amazing how much can change in two weeks. While the NWSL’s reckoning is far from complete, it’s safe to say that the league is not the same league that it was only 14 days ago. Since the story first broke of the Paul Riley scandal, jobs have been lost, promises have been made and a whole generation of players have stepped forward to demand the NWSL change.
In case you’ve lost track of all that has happened, we’ve laid out a timeline of the major events. This story is likely far from over. But here’s what’s happened so far:
Over a dozen players representing every team Riley has coached since 2010 as well as 10 other sources in the women’s game detail Paul Riley’s history of alleged sexual coercion and emotional abuse. Two, Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, exhaustively share their accounts of abuse.
Shim reveals that she reported the incidents to the Portland Thorns’ front office in 2015 with the help of Alex Morgan. Riley, who was coaching the Thorns at the time, was investigated by the club. The Thorns tell The Athletic that they “chose not to renew his contract” over their findings. At the time, the club made no mention of its investigation when it let Riley go, and five months later, he was hired by the Western New York Flash, who eventually became the North Carolina Courage.
Amid institutional failure, former #NWSL players accuse a prominent coach of sexual coercion. An investigation at @TheAthletic, with @KatieJStrang: https://t.co/0ul4IhZxyr pic.twitter.com/A6psqAWAq1— Meg Linehan (@itsmeglinehan) September 30, 2021
Amid institutional failure, former #NWSL players accuse a prominent coach of sexual coercion. An investigation at @TheAthletic, with @KatieJStrang: https://t.co/0ul4IhZxyr pic.twitter.com/A6psqAWAq1
The NWSL Players Association puts out a statement in response to the story in The Athletic. In it, they demand immediate action and say they “refuse to be silent any longer.”
SYSTEMIC ABUSE PLAGUING THE NWSL MUST NOT BE IGNORED pic.twitter.com/WlhcWW7R8m— NWSLPA (@nwsl_players) September 30, 2021
SYSTEMIC ABUSE PLAGUING THE NWSL MUST NOT BE IGNORED pic.twitter.com/WlhcWW7R8m
Players around the league begin to react. Morgan, who is featured in The Athletic article, calls on the NWSL to “do the right thing” as others begin to express their shock and disappointment.
Among them are Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams, who both played under Riley at North Carolina and in Western New York.
USWNT star and OL Reign midfielder Megan Rapinoe says that “not once during this whole time was the right person protected,” calling for all those who enabled the abuse to be fired.
Louisville’s Nadia Nadim also speaks out, calling the NWSL “a joke.”
The Thorns, who were at the center of The Athletic’s story, release their first statement, thanking Shim and Farrelly for “bravely speaking out” and apologizing for their role in the abuse.
“There is much in the article we are first hearing about now,” they write, adding that they conducted a thorough investigation in 2015. While they did not find evidence of “unlawful activity,” the Thorns say they chose to sever ties with Riley over the findings, which they shared with the league.
We want to thank Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly for bravely speaking out and fully apologize to them for our role in the abuse they detailed.— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) September 30, 2021
We want to thank Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly for bravely speaking out and fully apologize to them for our role in the abuse they detailed.
The North Carolina Courage announce that they have fired head coach Paul Riley, effective immediately, following the allegations raised in The Athletic.
“The Courage support the players who have come forward and we commend them for bravely sharing their stories,” the team says in a statement.
Assistant Sean Nahas is named head coach on an interim basis for the remainder of the season.
Official statement from the players, staff and principal owner the North Carolina Courage. pic.twitter.com/jsY2GtXU9Y— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) September 30, 2021
Official statement from the players, staff and principal owner the North Carolina Courage. pic.twitter.com/jsY2GtXU9Y
NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird issues a response to the allegations, saying that she is “shocked and disgusted.” She adds that the NWSL is reporting the allegations to the US Center for SafeSport for investigation.
“A safe and secure work environment is a top priority for the league and its collective ownership,” she says in a statement.
pic.twitter.com/HJMogyALg1— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) September 30, 2021
After commissioner Lisa Baird releases her statement, USWNT star and former Portland Thorns player Alex Morgan reveals she has the receipts proving the NWSL was contacted about Farrelly’s allegations. Morgan previously helped Shim report her story to the Thorns.
“The league was informed of these allegations multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate the allegations,” Morgan writes.
Morgan posts screenshots of the emails between Farrelly and Baird, in which Baird said that the initial complaint was “investigated to conclusion” before wishing her “the best.”
(1/3)The league was informed of these allegations multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate the allegations. The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse. https://t.co/KDRBhhVBcT— Alex Morgan (@alexmorgan13) September 30, 2021
(1/3)The league was informed of these allegations multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate the allegations. The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse. https://t.co/KDRBhhVBcT
(3/3) pic.twitter.com/BkGlHsPiV4— Alex Morgan (@alexmorgan13) September 30, 2021
US Soccer says in a statement that they are “deeply disturbed” by the allegations and have suspended Riley’s Pro Level coaching license, effective immediately.
Riley is later barred from US Soccer facilities by SafeSport.
pic.twitter.com/LvkizNmKnC— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) September 30, 2021
In a statement regarding the weekend’s matches, Baird takes “full responsibility” for her role in the allegations.
“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 says. “I am so sorry for the pain so many are feeling.”
The announcement also says the NWSL has opted not to play games over the weekend.
The NWSL announces an update regarding this weekend's matches Details ⤵— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) October 1, 2021
The NWSL announces an update regarding this weekend's matches Details ⤵
Following the report on Riley, The Washington Post details how another coach, Farid Benstiti, was the subject “of a formal complaint of verbal abuse made by a player.”
Benstiti resigned from his position in July. At the time, OL Reign’s CEO Bill Predmore thanked the coach for his “contributions” before saying that the club “wished him the best in all his future endeavors.” Only now does it come out that an investigation occurred and Predmore asked Benstiti to resign.
Chicago Red Stars co-owner Sarah Spain spoke out against the allegations, saying that she is “blindsided by the toxic culture” of the NWSL and even wondered if she should “get out.”
“I’m committed to burning it all down and building it back without the fear, power dynamics, toxicity, and secrecy that allowed it to get where it is,” says Spain of the NWSL.
This is a necessary listen.@itsmeglinehan & @mollyhc are doing incredibly important work that's hard on them & hard on all the brave people willing to speak to them, who face the public scrutiny that comes with such honesty.The story yesterday & related reporting...(1/) https://t.co/7Uttbck32z— Sarah Spain (@SarahSpain) October 1, 2021
This is a necessary listen.@itsmeglinehan & @mollyhc are doing incredibly important work that's hard on them & hard on all the brave people willing to speak to them, who face the public scrutiny that comes with such honesty.The story yesterday & related reporting...(1/) https://t.co/7Uttbck32z
(3/) But I care about these players, I care about women's sports, I care about sustainable, long-lasting leagues that the next generation can grow up with, fall in love with & take their kids to. I care about not letting the shittiest, worst people ruin the things we love.— Sarah Spain (@SarahSpain) October 1, 2021
(3/) But I care about these players, I care about women's sports, I care about sustainable, long-lasting leagues that the next generation can grow up with, fall in love with & take their kids to. I care about not letting the shittiest, worst people ruin the things we love.
In a statement, FIFA writes that they are “deeply concerned” with the allegations in the NWSL and have subsequently opened a preliminary investigation.
FIFA is deeply concerned by the recent reports in the US made by several players. FIFA’s judicial bodies are actively looking into the matter & have opened a preliminary investigation.https://t.co/vYhnJy13ay pic.twitter.com/0VgUWl25oh— FIFA Women's World Cup (@FIFAWWC) October 1, 2021
FIFA is deeply concerned by the recent reports in the US made by several players. FIFA’s judicial bodies are actively looking into the matter & have opened a preliminary investigation.https://t.co/vYhnJy13ay pic.twitter.com/0VgUWl25oh
pic.twitter.com/8ZKz3kQnmt— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) October 1, 2021
Additionally, US Soccer announces that they are also launching an independent investigation into the allegations.
“We take seriously our responsibility to vigorously investigate the abhorrent behavior that has been reported and gain a full and frank understanding of the factors that allowed it to happen, and the changes that should be made to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” U.S. Soccer says in an official statement.
Following earlier reports that Baird had been forced out by the NWSL’s Board of Governors, the NWSL says it has received and accepted her resignation. General counsel Lisa Levine is also reported to have been ousted, though she too is officially said to have resigned.
pic.twitter.com/rDtfhpZKSV— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) October 2, 2021
Baird later resigns from the US Soccer Federation’s Board of Directors.
Two players associations of other pro sports leagues express their support for NWSL players amid the fallout.
“The reports about abuse of our sisters in the NWSL are alarming,” the NFLPA says in its tweet. “We stand in solidarity with them.”
The reports about abuse of our sisters in the NWSL are alarming and we stand in solidarity with them as they fight for accountability and professionalism in their workplace. #BetOnWomen https://t.co/tFXU57UxPw— NFLPA (@NFLPA) October 2, 2021
The reports about abuse of our sisters in the NWSL are alarming and we stand in solidarity with them as they fight for accountability and professionalism in their workplace. #BetOnWomen https://t.co/tFXU57UxPw
Turning Our Outrage Into Empowerment #BetOnWomen https://t.co/dTvDQols3k— WNBPA (@TheWNBPA) October 2, 2021
Turning Our Outrage Into Empowerment #BetOnWomen https://t.co/dTvDQols3k
A group of protestors gathered outside of the Portland Thorns’ stadium on Saturday in response to the allegations against former Thorns head coach Paul Riley. The Rose City Riveters, the Thorns’ official supporters, organized the rally.
Signs reading "Believe Kaiya McCullough" "Believe Sinead Farrelly" and "Believe Mana Shim" in front of the Portland Thorns stadium today: https://t.co/wkTpI2Qoc7— Molly Hensley-Clancy (@mollyhc) October 3, 2021
Signs reading "Believe Kaiya McCullough" "Believe Sinead Farrelly" and "Believe Mana Shim" in front of the Portland Thorns stadium today: https://t.co/wkTpI2Qoc7
That same day, Portland Timbers players pen a letter in support of NWSL players, saying “there is no place in sport for abuse of women — in any league, in any country, at any level.”
Protect the players. Support the players. We need better, we are with you @nwsl_players. pic.twitter.com/wsz3XnxY2V— Eryk Williamson (@erykw19) October 2, 2021
Protect the players. Support the players. We need better, we are with you @nwsl_players. pic.twitter.com/wsz3XnxY2V
The NWSL announces on Sunday their “commitment to systemic transformation,” outlining initiatives to review the league, including reopening the 2015 investigation into the allegations made against Riley.
Additionally, a new executive committee comprised of the Orlando Pride’s Amanda Duffy, Kansas City’s Angie Long and OL Reign’s Sophie Sauvage is formed. The league announces it has also begun a global search for a permanent commissioner.
Midge Purce later calls the promises “not nearly enough.”
National Women’s Soccer League announces commitment to systemic transformation.More:— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) October 3, 2021
National Women’s Soccer League announces commitment to systemic transformation.More:
Portland Thorns’ owner Merritt Paulson breaks his silence on Monday in a letter released by the Thorns. In it, he says the entire organization is “reeling and devastated” by the abuse that Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly endured as members of the organization.
He then outlines how the Thorns have “zero tolerance for harassment or discrimination of any kind.”
In his note, he says that the club terminated Riley. It’s the first time the Thorns have used that language, having previously said they simply chose not to renew Riley’s contract.
Paulson apologizes for not publicly mentioning the investigation when the team let Riley go in 2015.
An open letter from Merritt Paulson. #BAONPDX— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) October 4, 2021
An open letter from Merritt Paulson. #BAONPDX
In her first public comments since resigning, Baird says in a statement Monday that she is proud of her efforts to make the league better.
“I fought to enact initiatives that protected the women in our league,” she says, citing mandatory screening and background checks, protection plans for the safety of players younger than 18 years old, anti-harassment training and the implementation of new anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies.
“I am invested in and care deeply about the NWSL and its players,” she continued. “The women who play our game deserve to be protected and I am proud of what I did to make the League better.”
Farrelly and Shim spoke publicly for the first time on The Today Show with Alex Morgan, calling the days since the story’s release a “whole spectrum of emotions.”
“I want more,” Shim says. “I want more justice. I want policies. I want players to be protected. At the same time, I feel like we’re on the right path.”
Morgan also addresses the league’s inaction.
“Something we ask is for the league to start being proactive and not reactive,” Morgan says. “We ask for transparency.”
After foregoing the weekend’s slate of games, the NWSLPA announces it will resume play on Wednesday, while also saying their demands “will be forthcoming.”
#NoMoreSilence pic.twitter.com/4UYiMDAIWL— NWSLPA (@nwsl_players) October 5, 2021
Baldwin announces his resignation as CEO on Tuesday, giving Spirit president Ben Olsen “full authority over all club operations.”
Spirit players had reportedly written Baldwin a letter asking him to step down as CEO and Managing Director following earlier allegations of abuse against their former coach.
pic.twitter.com/kUviSD2H8t— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) October 5, 2021
The Rose City Riveters, the Timbers Army and the 107IST release a joint statement on Tuesday stating they will be boycotting concession stands and team stores until their list of demands are met.
Included in those demands is the “immediate and complete removal” of GM Gavin Wilkinson over his role in the Thorns’ 2015 investigation and firing of Riley.
In a letter, North Carolina Courage owner Steve Malik reveals the Courage knew about the Thorns’ 2015 investigation into Riley.
When they acquired the Western New York Flash in 2017, Malik asserts that ownership did “due diligence” in their investigations of the coach but were assured he was “in good standing.”
According to Malik, upon learning of the extent of the full allegations, the club immediately fired Riley.
As games get underway on Wednesday, the NWSLPA releases a list of eight demands, revealing that they will be conducting their own investigation. They ask the NWSL to cooperate with said investigation.
“We will be relentless in our pursuit of a league that deserves the players in it,” they write.
The deadline to agree with the demands is Wednesday, Oct. 13.
We will be relentless in our pursuit of a league that deserves the players in it. #NoMoreSilence pic.twitter.com/0aa7IbM2Th— NWSLPA (@nwsl_players) October 6, 2021
We will be relentless in our pursuit of a league that deserves the players in it. #NoMoreSilence pic.twitter.com/0aa7IbM2Th
As the NWSL returns to play, players pause at the sixth minute of each game to link arms together in the middle of the field.
The NWSL Players Association says that the players paused at the sixth minute “in recognition of the six years it took for Mana, Sinead, and all those who fought for too long to be heard.”
pic.twitter.com/mlzE5Q8q8F— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) October 6, 2021
Washington Spirit players release a public letter to co-owner Steve Baldwin demanding he sell the team to Y. Michele Kang. They say Baldwin’s earlier resignation was not in line with their demands, as they “clearly meant you should not retain any management control.”
“You still have a firm grip as majority owner on the decisions that need to be made at the club even if they are made from behind a veil,” they continue.
Additionally, the players say they have no confidence in the club’s new president, Ben Olsen, who was hired by Baldwin without Kang’s input.
pic.twitter.com/RywYmlwqBh— Kelley O'Hara (@kelleymohara) October 5, 2021
The Thorns announce that they have placed Wilkinson on administrative leave pending the results of the outside independent investigation. The announcement comes within hours of the team’s players releasing a statement in which they demand Wilkinson be placed on leave “until the process concludes.”
🗣‼️ This is enough #NoMoreSilence pic.twitter.com/fHMjFVAOGO— "Rocky" Rodríguez (@raque_rocky) October 7, 2021
🗣‼️ This is enough #NoMoreSilence pic.twitter.com/fHMjFVAOGO
CLUB STATEMENT:Effectively immediately, Portland Thorns FC have placed general manager/president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson on administrative leave from Thorns duties pending the results of the outside independent investigation, which is ongoing.— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) October 7, 2021
CLUB STATEMENT:Effectively immediately, Portland Thorns FC have placed general manager/president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson on administrative leave from Thorns duties pending the results of the outside independent investigation, which is ongoing.
Following Wednesday night’s game, Thorns head coach Mark Parsons says he was made aware of an incident and an investigation in regards to Riley’s 2015 departure from the team.
“It was an area where I wasn’t allowed and wasn’t able to know more,” he says.
According to reporting by The Athletic, Baldwin made an offer to Y. Michele Kang to sell the team at three times its most recent valuation. Kang was reportedly willing to sign the check. However, before Kang could officially accept or negotiate, the offer was rescinded.
According to the report, Baldwin is now planning to sell to a local group or an interested party outside of the D.C. area.
The Spirit’s Aubrey Bledsoe is subsequently quoted as saying that Baldwin is not respecting the player’s wishes.
“We have made it very clear the path forward for this team,” Bledsoe says following the Spirit’s Saturday night win. “We believe that Michele will be a great owner and continually put the players first.”
Referencing the players’ open letter, Bledsoe adds, “I don’t think Steve is going to honor our demand or request.”
Player protests officially go global as Chelsea’s players and staff link arms in a show of support for NWSL players ahead of their Women’s Super League game on Sunday.
Today we linked arms ahead of our kick-off to show solidarity with the players in the @NWSL. 👊 pic.twitter.com/KkS6DQchIp— Chelsea FC Women (@ChelseaFCW) October 10, 2021
Today we linked arms ahead of our kick-off to show solidarity with the players in the @NWSL. 👊 pic.twitter.com/KkS6DQchIp
Fellow FAWSL clubs will later recreate the show of solidarity.