NWSL issues lifetime bans to coaches at center of abuse reports

Former Portland Thorns and North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley has been banned permanently from the league. (Lewis Gettier/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The NWSL has issued lifetime bans to four of the coaches at the center of its abuse scandal, the league announced Monday.

Paul Riley, Christy Holly, Rory Dames and Richie Burke all have been barred permanently from the NWSL. The league also laid down further suspensions and fines, including a $1.5 million fine to the Chicago Red Stars and a $1 million fine to the Portland Thorns.

The punishments come one month after the NWSL and NWSLPA released the findings of their joint investigation into “widespread misconduct” in the league, and three months after U.S. Soccer released the results from its own investigation into “systemic” abuse and failures by NWSL coaches and executives.

Both investigations started after a 2021 report in The Athletic detailed allegations of sexual harassment and coercion made against Riley in 2015, during his tenure as head coach of the Thorns. In the wake of that report, Riley was fired from his position as North Carolina Courage coach.

Holly, Dames and Burke also were fired or resigned in 2021 due to misconduct allegations, and the U.S. Soccer and NWSL/NWSLPA investigations exposed further details of their abusive behavior.

Holly was fired as Racing Louisville coach in August 2021 after he groped a player on multiple occasions. Burke was fired in September 2021 after player complaints of racism and verbal abuse. Dames resigned after that season after player complaints of his “pejorative,” “degrading” and “racially insensitive” comments were exposed by the Washington Post.

Several other coaches and club leaders identified in the misconduct investigations received suspensions Monday.

Former Utah Royals coach Craig Harrington “blurred professional boundaries” with players, including drinking with them at bars and making sexual comments to and about them, per the NWSL and NWSLPA report. Former Gotham FC general manager Alyse LaHue made unwanted sexual advances toward a player, per the same report.

Harrington and LaHue cannot work in the league until at least January 2025, and in order to do so each would have to acknowledge wrongdoing, undergo training and be approved for reinstatement by the commissioner.

Former OL Reign coach Farid Benstiti, former Houston Dash coaches James Clarkson and Vera Pauw and former Orlando Pride coach Amanda Cromwell and her assistants, Sam Greene and Aline Reis, are not permitted to work in the NWSL again unless they acknowledge wrongdoing, undergo training and are approved for reinstatement by the commissioner.

The league also issued fines to six of its 12 clubs: the Red Stars ($1.5 million); the Thorns ($1 million, previously announced by owner Merritt Paulson as a pledge support the establishment of an NWSL Player Safety Office); Racing Louisville ($200,000); North Carolina Courage ($100,000); OL Reign ($50,000); and Gotham FC ($50,000).

“The league will continue to prioritize implementing and enhancing the policies, programs and systems that put the health and safety of our players first,” NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement. “Those actions are fundamental to the future of our league, especially as we build a league that strengthens our players’ ability to succeed and prosper on and off the pitch.”

The NWSLPA called the league’s actions “a critical step” toward accountability and greater player safety.

While “no sanction will ever be enough to undo the harm that too many players endured,” NWSPLA president and Spirit midfielder Tori Huster said in a statement, she acknowledged the disciplinary measures as a step toward a brighter future.

“A new NWSL begins today,” Huster said.