As soon as Mana Shim confided in Alex Morgan in 2015 about the sexual harassment she had experienced from their Portland Thorns coach Paul Riley, Morgan dedicated herself to helping her teammate.
The players, though, ran into obstacles at every turn, as Shim and Morgan told ESPN as part of its E:60 documentary, “Truth Be Told: The Fight for Women’s Professional Soccer,” which debuted Tuesday.
Neither Shim nor Morgan knew the first step to take to file a report against Riley.
“I couldn’t find an HR contact,” Morgan said. “I couldn’t find an anonymous hotline. I couldn’t even find an anti-harassment policy that might lay out exactly what he was doing that was reportable.”
Shim recalled the same challenges.
“We didn’t have policies to turn to,” she said. “We didn’t have a protocol for what happens if you experience abuse in the workplace.”
According to the report released today, the independent investigation into U.S. Soccer and the NWSL found that the organizations repeatedly ignored reports of inappropriate conduct by coaches. Mana Shim was among those ignored. Our story on the NWSL, tomorrow at 7PM ET on ESPN. pic.twitter.com/gNReU9hlIm— E60 (@E60) October 3, 2022
According to the report released today, the independent investigation into U.S. Soccer and the NWSL found that the organizations repeatedly ignored reports of inappropriate conduct by coaches. Mana Shim was among those ignored. Our story on the NWSL, tomorrow at 7PM ET on ESPN. pic.twitter.com/gNReU9hlIm
Eventually, Shim decided to email then-general manager Gavin Wilkinson and team owner Merritt Paulson. She copied Riley and then-NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush on the message. The league told her the Thorns would be responsible for investigating her claims.
After its investigation, the club fired Riley for cause. But publicly, the Thorns spun his exit as a choice not to renew his contract. Wilkinson even told another NWSL team that he felt Riley “was put in a bad position by the player.”
“It was offensive,” Shim said. “They weren’t going to say anything about Paul unless they had to, right? Because it was at their expense. It would make them look bad.”
Paulson, Wilkinson and Riley all declined interview requests from ESPN.
Morgan echoed Shim’s frustration with the Thorns’ and the NWSL’s response.
“I had helped Mana do the right thing, which was reporting Paul to the league,” Morgan told ESPN. “She went through all the right steps to report someone who was sexually harassing her. And she was failed. She was failed by the system. And I think that was the hardest thing at the time: What do we do now?”
One year ago, a report was published detailing allegations of abuse, sexual coercion and a toxic work environment inside the NWSL.On Oct. 4, @E60 investigates the crisis inside the women's soccer league.📺 Tuesday | 7 PM ET | ESPN pic.twitter.com/Pnzpbo2K5L— espnW (@espnW) September 30, 2022
One year ago, a report was published detailing allegations of abuse, sexual coercion and a toxic work environment inside the NWSL.On Oct. 4, @E60 investigates the crisis inside the women's soccer league.📺 Tuesday | 7 PM ET | ESPN pic.twitter.com/Pnzpbo2K5L
Years later, Shim decided to turn to the news media to make her story public. In a September 2021 piece published by The Athletic, she detailed her experiences with Riley, and teammate Sinead Farrelly described her own experiences of sexual coercion and harassment from Riley.
After The Athletic report, Riley was dismissed from his position as head coach of the North Carolina Courage, and U.S. Soccer opened up its investigation into coach abuse in the league. That investigation culminated in the report released Monday documenting “systemic” issues across the NWSL.
In the wake of the U.S. Soccer report, Shim joined with Farrelly and former Red Stars player Erin Simon — who reported her own experiences of sexual assault and coercion from former NWSL coach Christy Holly — to call for the removal of team owners who played a role in the abuse scandal.
“Owners who have driven a culture of disrespect, who are complicit in abusing their own players, have no place in this league and should be removed from governance immediately,” Shim, Farrelly and Simon said in a statement. “This will be the first of many necessary steps to finally hearing our voices and keeping our players safe.”