clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Another day, another way that the NWSL has failed its players

We are close to breaking point. What will it take for this league to do a deep cleanse and actually start to care about its players?

OL Reign v Racing Louisville FC Photo by Lee Klafczynski/ISI Photos/Getty Images

In case you missed it (at this point, how have you missed it?), another story broke this morning about the lack of transparency, consequences and/or repercussions for misconduct within the NWSL.

Meg Linehan and Katie Strang of the Athletic dropped a story this morning where former players are accusing now-former NC Courage head coach Paul Riley of sexual coercion, among many other things. According to the report, this behavior has been prevalent from Riley since 2010, spanning multiple teams and leagues.

A deep dive into this report shows so much mismanagement and a culture of letting someone skate by from job to job without any repercussions despite numerous investigations. We could point out an incident in 2011, then another in 2012 and another in 2015 that are all mentioned in the article and at each point, nothing was done to course correct Riley’s behavior according to the report.

It gets even worse when you realize that it took a USWNT player (the star of the team) supporting a teammate who brought forward a complaint about Riley’s behavior for it to be taken seriously by the league’s premier team, the Portland Thorns, for any upper management to take it seriously. However, even with such support, nothing was done as there was not “a legal claim” due to a lack of evidence. Riley was then moved on from Portland with grateful parting words from the Thorns and proceeded to be hired almost immediately by the now defunct WNY Flash and then the Courage. Any follow-ups to this complaint were greeted with stone-walling from the league as The Athletic states that current commissioner Lisa Baird decided that since the 2015 investigation had concluded, nothing more should be done essentially.

(It shouldn’t take a USWNT player coming forward for something like this to be taken seriously but that’s a conversation for another day. Also, something we’d like to see addressed when a CBA is signed.)

I don’t mean to pick on just the Thorns here because they aren’t the only organization guilty of being so negligent with such complaints, but with the outspoken nature of their owner and the place he holds within the league’s hierarchy, he and all of those involved in this should have done much, much better with all of this.

We’ve had coaching changes at Racing Louisville and the Washington Spirit due to misconduct and it shows a lack of care from these teams about the allegations that have followed the men who were hired by these organizations.

(We also had a coaching change at OL Reign which has now been addressed by CEO Bill Predmore in the Washington Post today, something the club had not done since it was first announced that Farid Benstiti and the club had parted ways.)

Now, we have a coaching change in North Carolina.

Each team seems to be on this train of thought that these people should be given a second chance and we’re willing to be the ones to subject our players to this second chance experience as long as it gets us results.

There’s so much to unpack here and it leaves those of us who cover this league feeling bereft because we want to support the women who make this league what it is yet the people in charge with these athletes’ safety seemingly don’t care about their wellbeing at all. How can those in the Thorns organization justify their lack of transparency regarding Riley and allowing him to continue coaching in the NWSL? How can the league justify the continued hiring of people who have had accusations of misconduct follow them everywhere they went? How can anyone in power who claims to care about this league or its products i.e. the players continue to justify allowing this constant barrage of negativity and never doing anything about it?

How do we, who have a stronger voice due to our coverage, continue to write about this league without all of the dark and murky mess behind the scenes clouding what we write about? I for one, would love to just keep writing about football just as it is, a sport that brings joy and amazement due to the players who produce what we watch but I can’t even do that without thinking of what those players must be going through behind closed doors (see: the Spirit’s most recent win against KC)? We have an obligation to be truthful in what we write while also being careful about how we write it because at the end of the day, our main goal is to cover this league like we would any other, fairly and objectively. So when something like this happens, we have to take it upon ourselves to call out the NWSL and everyone else involved with allowing so much to happen, no matter the consequences. That is what journalistic integrity is about. That is what we should all strive to do as those who regularly write about this league, both in the good times and the bad.

Several hours after the story posted, we received reactions from various parties. Players, the teams involved and the NWSL all looked to officially state something in support and in acknowledgment of what happened. For the players, it’s going to make more than one day to process all of this and with the first round of discussion between the league and the players’ union set for Friday, any grievances the players may have will most certainly be heard and heard loud and clear after everything that’s happened today.

For the organizations involved and the NWSL, their statement may be perfect legalise but they ring hollow when facts are presented as to what part they played in this.

On top of that, no statement released by any of the above had an apology in it at all. It was all acknowledgment and promises to do better without ever addressing the fact that those involved never once considered the players in any shape or capacity. Some of those named in the Athletic article will be involved with the CBA negotiations and as of right now, many view them as untrustworthy and not ready to have an honest conversation about how they have treated players in this league since its inception.

Once again, the players have been put in a position that, had the relevant parties done their jobs competently, the players would not have to use social media to voice their concerns. They wouldn’t need to hold back in fear of repercussions from those in power. They wouldn’t need to leave the league in order to speak their truth and most importantly, they wouldn’t need to do anything other than focus on playing football, week-in, week-out. The players are now, again, navigating things that happened behind the scenes that affects all of them even if it didn’t happen to them, as the season reaches its conclusion and the playoffs are beckoning.

It shouldn’t be this way.

Professional athletes shouldn’t have to bear the burden of being victimised from the minute they pick up a ball to the minute they hang up their boots for good. Professional athletes, especially female athletes, shouldn’t have to worry that speaking their truth will blow up their league and leave them and their teammates without a job/career. We ask a lot of athletes as it is, to entertain us, to wow us with their talent, to lead our favourite teams to victory. We shouldn’t also be asking them to bear such a burden on their shoulders. A burden that even in the everyday workplace, could be hazardous to one's own mental being.

It has to stop. Enough is enough.