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NWSL Sexual Misconduct and Unsafe Work Environment

Updated: Aug 6, 2022

“A safe and secure work environment is a top priority for the league and its collective ownership” – Alex Morgan

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) has recently faced some serious allegations and players are not holding back when describing the “unforgivable” conduct they have endured. These serious revelations have sprung a series of events: the league’s commissioner resigning, a coach’s termination, and the inception of multiple investigations. Allegations include sexual misconduct, homophobic remarks, inappropriate utterances, and other behaviors.

North Carolina Courage coach, Paul Riley, who has held this position for four years, has been fired. Players, Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim have accused Riley of harassment and sexual coercion. Farrelly and Shim reported this conduct to The Athletic and the story was published on September 30th. Riley has denied these allegations to multiple outlets and was ultimately fired from his position as head coach hours later. Shortly after, Lisa Baird, NWSL commissioner resigned. After these events and appalling revelations, Orlando Pride goalkeeper Erin McLeod spoke out and reported to NBC News that NWLS can no longer be seen as a safe workplace. NJ/NY Gotham FC midfielder, McCall Zerboni, told NBC, “How do we know that if we turn up to work every day that this is not going to happen to us? Or that it’s not going to happen again? Because it did, again and again, and again, and no one in a position of power or ability stopped it” Attorney General Sally Yates has been appointed to lead an investigation. It can be predicted that this is not the first time players have felt uneasy and unsafe.

Players have stated that the league is no longer protecting players from abusive coaches. Since the report, NWSL postponed all the games over the weekend. Fans rallied outside stadiums demanding answers. The report has caused a domino effect and multiple coaches have been identified and accused of similar misconduct. On October 6th, NWSL Players from Washington Spirit and Gotham FC stopped playing in the sixth minute of their match and joined arms in protest. The National Women’s Soccer League Players Association (NSWLPA) put out a powerful statement claiming that “teams will stop play in each of tonight’s games at the sixth minute… Players will join together in solidarity at the center circle for one minute in recognition of the six years it took for Mana, Sinead, and all those who fought too long to be heard”. They also said, “We call on fans to stand in silence with us… during that time, we ask you to stand in that pain and discomfort with us, as we consider what too many of us have been asked to sit with for too long.” The NWSLPA also stated that players will not answer any questions that do not relate to change or abuse in the NWSL.

Since the start of the investigation, NWSLPA has released a list of demands regarding the investigations which include full disclosure and league-wide cooperation. These women deserve change, safety, and overall respect as female soccer players and professionals. Abuse will not be tolerated. As we await further findings, we should stand with these women in silence and demand an overall systematic revision of the NWSL.

Ariana is a 2L at Seton Hall University School of Law. She is the Vice President of the Entertainment and Sports Law Society (ESLS). She is currently an intern for Emily Staker Representation and previously worked as an intern at the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor.

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