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Report: Former Players Accuse NC Courage Coach Paul Riley of Sexual Coercion

Former players accused North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley of sexual coercion and of the use inappropriate comments about players' weight and sexual orientations, spanning multiple teams and leagues and lasting over a decade, in a report by the The Athletic's Meg Linehan and Katie Strang. 

One of the former players, Sinead Farrelly, detailed to The Athletic a 2011 incident in which she, while playing for the Women’s Professional Soccer league's Philadelphia Independence, alleges Riley coerced her into having sex with him and spending the night in his room. The sexual coercion toward Farrelly, who is now retired, continued during the offseason as well as while she played for a semi-pro team Riley coached on Long Island in ’12, she said. 

Both Farrelly and another player, Mana Shim, detailed another alleged incident in 2015 where Riley led both then Portland Thorns teammates to his hotel room after a night of drinking and pressured them to kiss each other as he watched. He also sent an unsolicited lurid picture of himself to both, they players said.

Other unnamed Thorns players from the 2014–15 season said Riley also made inappropriate remarks about their weight and sexual orientation. 

Riley responded to a list of nearly two-dozen questions from The Athletic by saying that the majority of the allegations are “completely untrue.”

Following The Athletic’s publication of its story, the National Women's Soccer League Players Association called for an investigation into the allegations against Riley, and an investigation as to how Riley was rehired in the NWSL by the Western New York Flash in 2016, just months after allegations of misconduct were first brought against him in ’15.

The NWSLPA also said it supports Kaiya McCullough, who was part of a Washington Post investigation into former Spirit coach Richie Burke

"We, the players of the NWSL, stand with Sinead Farrelly, Mana Shim, Kaiya McCullough, and each of the players who have brought their stories into the light — both known and unknown. Words cannot adequately capture our anger, pain, sadness, and disappointment," the statement said.

The players’ union additionally called for the suspension of any person working within the league who violated its anti-harassment policy for a safe work environment—whether the alleged conduct occurred before or after the policy's implementation in 2021—and said it was creating an anonymous hotline for players to report abuse.

Alex Morgan, who was a teammate of Farrelly and Shim on the Thorns at the time of the 2014–15 allegations, voiced her support for the all players involved. Veteran USWNT defender Becky Sauerbrunn shared the NWSLPA's statement and added, "Do not ignore this."

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Nadia Nadim, a striker on Racing Louisville FC who previously also played for the Thorns, called the NWSL "such a joke," writing on Twitter, "The rest of the world is laughing. We’re nothing but a joke. The players deserve more." 

The Athletic's report Thursday comes on the heels of Tuesday’s league announcement that Burke had been fired for cause after he was suspended for allegations of verbal and emotional abuse in August.

The NWSL conducted a third-party investigation after The Washington Post detailed Burke's alleged inappropriate conduct last month. It then expanded its investigation after more troubling allegations concerning owner Steven Baldwin came to the surface, shedding light on a toxic club culture.

Over the summer, an investigation was also launched into former Real Salt Lake and Utah Royals owner Dell Loy Hansen over the alleged use of racist language. The allegations served as the impetus for Hansen to sell his stakes in the teams. The Royals became defunct, with the club effectively resurfacing in Kansas City under new ownership.

NJ/NY Gotham FC has also encountered controversy in its front office, with general manager Alyse Lahue fired this past summer following an NWSL investigation into a complaint regarding her and the league's anti-harrassment policy.

Pertaining to Riley, the Courage said in a statement to The Athletic: "When we hired Paul, we made perfectly clear the expectations of the job and the values of our club, and from what we know, he has lived up to those expectations. If there are any players or staff that wish to come forward in accordance with NWSL league policy, we encourage them to report any inappropriate behavior as we will continue to uphold the standard of maintaining a safe and positive environment for all at the club."

The Thorns followed later Thursday with a statement of their own:

Riley, 58, has been with North Carolina's organization since 2016 (the club, previously known as the Western New York Flash, relocated to N.C. in ’17) and has been a soccer coach at various levels for more than two decades.

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