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Heather O’Reilly: women’s soccer ‘swept a lot of bad things under the rug’

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Former USWNT star Heather O’Reilly is speaking out amid the reckoning inside the NWSL, telling the BBC that women’s football “swept a lot of bad things under the rug because we want the league to succeed.”

The NWSL, and women’s soccer more broadly, has been shaken up following an explosive report from The Athletic detailing allegations of sexual coercion and emotional abuse by former North Carolina coach Paul Riley.

Riley has since been fired from his coaching position, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird has resigned from her post, and Portland Thorns GM Galvin Wilkinson has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into Riley’s 2015 dismissal from the club.

O’Reilly says NWSL players felt pressure to “just take” misconduct in order to keep the league alive and their careers afloat.

As far as her time playing under Riley for the Courage, O’Reilly calls the power structure at the club “just dangerous.”

“He was in control of every facet of the club. He was the manager but if you had a complaint about ownership or the physio, you went to Paul.”

The former North Carolina defender blames a “lack of checks and balances” for Riley’s ability to abuse his power as a coach.

“In the NWSL there’s not a ton of HR employees at clubs, there’s not a hotline for players to call, so that’s why so many things happen time after time and aren’t disciplined.”

The NWSL didn’t have an anti-harassment policy in place until 2021, a point of contention for many of the league’s players.