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Ex-Cal Star Alex Morgan Interviewed Extensively for ESPN Soccer Documentary

Morgan, winner of this year's NWSL Golden Boot award, played a role in uncovering abuses in the NWSL cited in the investigation released this week

Former Cal soccer star Alex Morgan was one of the prime interview subjects in the E:60 documentary, "Truth Be Told," regarding the controversy surrounding coaches' abuses in women's professional soccer.

On Monday the results of an independent investigation commissioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation and conducted by former U.S. deputy attorney general Sally Yates were released. It outlined the abuse and sexual misconduct in the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) that was "systemically" ignored by executives, coaches and club owners.

Former Portland Thorns coach Paul Riley was one of three NWSL coaches cited for their actions. Morgan was also a teammate of Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly during her time with the Thorns from 2013 to 2015.

Morgan was interviewed extensively for the ESPN documentary, and ESPN posted a story that included her entire interview, which consisted of 19 questions and answers as well as videos of some of her answers.

Here are just five of the questions and answers by Morgan.

ESPN: Was there anything that you remember that sticks out to you of how he [Riley] used his power to, like you said, manipulate these players who were the fringe players?

Morgan: Paul would have this coaching tactic of -- at the end of the day, it's verbal abuse -- but he would break down players... Mana, a couple of other players that were just fighting to get some playing time. He would break them down in a way that if they weren't playing up to a standard in a training or in a game, he would rip into them at halftime.

One time with a player who was with us in 2015, [Riley] just tore into her and about how bad of a mother she was and how all of these personal attacks that had absolutely nothing to do with the game and it made all of us uncomfortable. But he would do that and then two days later, we would be back at training after an off day and he would just be smiling as if nothing happened.

He didn't just verbally attack somebody. Like, he didn't just attack our personalities, us as people, rather than soccer players. And it was weird because you were like, "I'm sorry, I was there when you did this, but were you there? Do you remember this?" And he would go through this pattern of breaking someone down and then lifting them up and being like, "I could help you get to where you want to be."

And so it was a manipulation tactic that I think wore on a lot of players, but especially players who were struggling to get playing time or get [on the roster]. All they wanted was validation that they deserved to be there, and he would do it in a way that really made them feel like they could only have confidence when he gave them confidence.

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ESPN: When was the first time that you remember that Mana confided in you about what was happening with her with Paul Riley?

Morgan: Early 2015 is when Mana confided in me that Paul was really crossing the line. He did a couple of things in particular, like asking her to go over to his hotel room to watch film, and then opening the door in his boxers and closing the door behind her and asking her to sit in his bed. Or asking if she wanted to come to the World Cup final in Vancouver, with him sending along the reservation of the hotel that had a king-size bed and not two rooms or two beds.

So, a couple of things that he did and said via text message that she relayed to me and this only progressed, and Mana really struggled with it in 2015. I tried to help her as much as possible, but I was gone a lot with the national team so I really didn't get a sense of how bad it was until I came back from Vancouver and she showed me text messages and shared with me the things that he did that crossed the line and were just straight-up sexual harassment. And we kind of started from square one on: Well, how do we approach this? How do we report this? How do we hold someone like this accountable?

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ESPN: And what did you do?

Morgan: When Mana told me that she was ready to report him, although she was scared to lose her job as a soccer player, she didn't know the right way to do that. She wanted to anonymously report him because then she wouldn't be at risk of retribution, and I told her that I would do everything I could to find a contact for HR within the league or within the Portland Thorns and Timbers organization.

At the league, I couldn't find anything. I couldn't find [an] HR contact, I couldn't find an anonymous hotline. I couldn't even find an anti-harassment policy that might layout exactly what he was doing that was reportable. So I eventually had to go to the Portland Thorns organization and call and just ask around if there was anyone at HR that they can share a contact with me for, and that I didn't really want to share what it was about, but I really would like the contact information of that person.

I finally got that information and shared that with Mana, and at that point she reported him. And that was late 2015.

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ESPN: Mana told me that it meant a lot to her that you had told her, "I'm never going to shake his hand again."

Morgan: Yeah, I never shook his hand. And he started to -- people caught on that I did not respect Paul in the slightest, that I would not shake his hand. I would not look at him at the end of the game when we were playing against Western New York and what came to be North Carolina, because I was disgusted and I was saddened by Mana's situation.

I just knew that he needed to be held accountable one day and that it would happen one day, but it took years for that to happen. And I told Mana that I had her back no matter what. I just wanted to support her and help her in holding people accountable that needed to be held accountable. It's just sad that it took years and years of us forcing people's hand to remove him from his position of power.

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ESPN: Lisa Baird put out a statement right after this news broke saying that she was "shocked and disgusted." What did you think reading that?

Morgan: We talked with our legal team weekly. I keep saying "our" because I actually feel like for two years, we talked weekly, so I was part of it. We talked with our legal team weekly and we thought of every angle. We thought of what if they say this? What if they do that? What if they say, "Oh, there is basic workplace policies?" Okay, well, show us.

So we did things where I would send off emails to Lisa Baird. I would ask for a call with Lisa Baird. I was on a call with her and [President of the National Women's Soccer League Players Association] Tori Huster and [NWSL General Counsel] Lisa Levine, and asked for these basic workplace policies. Lisa Levine said, "They're somewhere. I'm sure I'll be able to find them." And I was like, "Okay, great. We'll be waiting." Weeks went by, nothing happened.

We drafted policies for the NWSL with our legal team and handed them to the NWSL, and then still had to ask our PA [Players Association] to put a timeline on when they needed to be implemented and given out to all players and staff. Before the season of 2021, we asked them before the first game of season starts, "We need these policies to be in place." They pushed back, the league pushed back, the Lisas pushed back. Sinead and Mana both sent emails that we all looked at, multiple drafts of these emails asking them to look into the sexual harassment and assault from Paul Riley from years back.

Lisa Baird's email back: "We're doing what we can. We'll look into it. We'll get back to you." Nothing.

So when this article was finally released and there's a sigh of relief on our side and just utter shock from the rest of the soccer community -- we had already known everything. We tried to give the league a chance and time again to do the right thing. I wanted so deeply for Lisa Baird to just stand up and say, "I'm sorry. I didn't do enough. I didn't look into enough. I trusted our general counsel, Lisa Levine, too much. We were too understaffed. We didn't have enough people in the room to really make calculated decisions," but she didn't. She said she was shocked and disgusted, and that was surprising because that was a lie.

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On a separate issue, Morgan, who plays for the San Diego Wave, was named the winner of the NWSL Golden Boot award this week, finishing as the league’s top scorer in the regular season with 15 goals in 17 games. Her 15 goals were a career best since joining the league in 2013.

The Wave finished third in the NWSL standings and will host a quarterfinal playoff match on Sunday, October 16, against the Chicago Red Stars, 

The Wave sold out its home game at Snapdragon Stadium on Saturday, September 17, with a crowd of 32,000.

Also, Morgan was ruled out of two upcoming USWNT friendlies against England and Spain because of a knee injury. The U.S. squad faces England on Friday, Oct. 7, at Wembley Stadium in London, then faces Spain on Oct. 11 at El Sadar Stadium in Pamplona.

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Cover photo of Alex Morgan by Kelvin Kuo, USA TODAY Sports

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