National Women’s Soccer League commissioner resigns after prominent coach accused of misconduct
National Women’s Soccer League Commissioner Lisa Baird resigned Friday, a day after some former players accused North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley of misconduct. Riley, who has since been fired by the team and had his license suspended by U.S. Soccer, denies the allegations.
“The National Women’s Soccer League has received and accepted Lisa Baird’s resignation as its commissioner,” the League said in a statement Friday night.
The decision comes hours after the Leagueit would postpone the five matches scheduled for this weekend in light of the .
“This week, and much of this season, has been incredibly traumatic for our players and staff, and I take full responsibility for the role I have played,” Baird said in a statement announcing the postponed games before her resignation was announced. “I am so sorry for the pain so many are feeling. Recognizing that trauma, we have decided not to take the field this weekend to give everyone some space to reflect. Business as usual isn’t our concern right now.”
On Thursday, The Athletic published an article in which Sinead Farrelly, who played for Riley on multiple teams, claimed he coerced her into having sex with him. Farrelly and colleague Mana Shim also alleged that when they played for him on the Portland Thorns for the 2014-2015 season, he coerced them into kissing each other. They claimed he made inappropriate comments about their bodies, sexual orientation and relationships.
In a statement to The Athletic, Riley called the allegations “completely untrue.” While he acknowledged making comments that some players may have found offensive, he said, “I do not belittle my players, comment on their weight, or discuss their personal relationships.” He denied ever taking his players out drinking or making any sexual advances towards them.
The women claimed Shim filed a complaint against Riley to the Thorns at the end of the 2015 season and said they both spoke with an HR representative at the team about her alleged experience. The women told The Athletic they forwarded Shim’s email detailing Riley’s alleged misconduct to the League years prior to Baird’s tenure as commissioner.
The team announced soon after that Riley’s contract would not be renewed, but did not cite a specific reason, The Athletic reported. Riley then worked with the Western New York Flash and the North Carolina Courage. He was the National Women Soccer League coach of the year in 2017 and 2018.
The Thorns said Thursday that they conducted a “thorough investigation” when they received the complaint about Riley and did not discover illegal activity, but did find “clear violations” of company policy. The team said it shared its findings with the League’s office.
The women also alleged that when they each raised concerns about the thoroughness of the Thorns’ investigation years later to the League over email, Baird did not initiate any new investigations.
In an email to the League, Farrelly alleged that Riley had committed “numerous instances of severe misconduct” prior to the formation of the League and said she experienced “extremely inappropriate conduct” from him firsthand. Riley has denied all allegations of misconduct.
Baird allegedly told Farrelly and Shim that the Thorns’ investigation had already been completed and she could not share further details, The Athletic reported.
In its own statement Friday night, U.S. Soccer said it would launch an independent investigation into the allegations.
“U.S. Soccer played a major role in establishing the NWSL in 2013 and provided administrative support to the league until it became fully independent last year. U.S. Soccer continues to support the NWSL financially, and many of its senior National team players compete in the league today,” the statement said. “We take seriously our responsibility to vigorously investigate the abhorrent behavior that has been reported and gain a full and frank understanding of the factors that allowed it to happen, and the changes that should be made to make sure it does not happen again.”
Zoe Christen Jones contributed reporting.