News & Politics

Women's Pro Soccer League Rocked by Abuse Allegations

Michael Sohn

An unusual scandal has hit the National Women’s Soccer League as Commissioner Lisa Baird announced the cancelation of the league’s weekend schedule in response to abuse allegations that resulted in two of the league’s coaches being dismissed.

“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. I am so sorry for the pain so many are feeling,” Baird said in a statement. “Recognizing that trauma, we have decided not to take the field this weekend to give everyone some space to reflect.”

ESPN:

The announcement came after The Athletic published an investigation in which it talked to more than a dozen players from every team Riley has coached since 2010, including two named players who went on the record with allegations against him.

A club statement on Thursday read: “In light of today’s reports, the North Carolina Courage have terminated head coach Paul Riley, effective immediately, following serious allegations of misconduct.

Riley, in an email to The Athletic, said the majority of the allegations are “completely untrue.”

Another coach, Richie Burke of the Washington Spirit, was fired on Tuesday following allegations published in the Washington Post of using abusive language toward players.

Throughout training and scrimmages last year, McCullough said, the team’s now-former coach, Richie Burke, screamed at her, and he didn’t stop. Anything could set him off, she said, prompting him to unleash a torrent of threats, criticism and personal insults on McCullough and her teammates.

Off the field, Burke also made racially insensitive jokes and comments that McCullough, who is Black, said left her feeling “very uncomfortable.”

“I was 100 percent in a situation where I was being emotionally abused by Richie,” McCullough said in an interview. “He created this environment where I knew I wasn’t playing as well because I was so, so scared to mess up and be yelled at. It crippled my performance, and it made me super anxious.

Meanwhile, three other coaches have also either resigned or been forced out due to abuse allegations.

In total, four NWSL teams have seen their male coaches leave after allegations of misconduct this summer. One coach, OL Reign’s Farid Benstiti, was asked to resign following allegations that he had spoken abusively to players, though at the time, OL Reign’s CEO, Bill Predmore, said only that he had resigned and thanked him for his contributions.

“Men, protecting men, who are abusing women,” Rapinoe said Twitter on Thursday. “Burn it all down. Let all their heads roll.”

Is this behavior by professional coaches the norm in men’s sports too? There have been legendary coaches who were brutal disciplinarians but kept winning–so their verbal abuse of players was tolerated. And it could be that the culture in male professional sports gave a pass to abusive coaches because men were supposed to endure that type of thing and not complain about it.

But times have changed. The abuse detailed in The Athletic article and the WaPo story should not be tolerated by anyone — man or woman — especially the sexual coercion detailed against Coach Riley.

Yelling at a player to make them play better or motivate them to success doesn’t have to include language degrading or abusing the player. Good coaches have always been able to walk the line between abusing and motivating. It’s why the best coaches, despite being harsh disciplinarians, end up being loved by their players.

I don’t know if canceling games was necessary. But it’s a league-wide problem and needed to be dealt with.