NWSL's Courage fires head coach Paul Riley over misconduct allegations from players

The National Women's Soccer League and North Carolina Courage has fired head coach Paul Riley after a report in The Athletic detailing allegations of misconduct toward players.

Words can't capture 'anger, pain, sadness, and disappointment,' says NWSLPA

North Carolina Courage says it has terminated head coach Paul Riley after allegations of misconduct reported in The Athletic. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) and North Carolina Courage have fired head coach Paul Riley after a report detailing allegations of misconduct toward players. 

The Athletic published an article on Thursday outlining allegations of sexual coercion and misconduct by Riley, who led the Courage to back-to-back NWSL championships in 2018 and 2019, after speaking to more than a dozen players he coached since 2010.

"I was shocked and disgusted to read the new allegations," NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement. "The league, in concert with the North Carolina Courage, as reacted swiftly in response to these new allegations, and former head coach Paul Riley has been terminated."

Twice U.S. World Cup winners Alex Morgan of the Orlando Pride and OL Reign player Megan Rapinoe, were among prominent players who voiced their outrage and called for change.

In reference to Baird's statement, Morgan wrote: "The league was informed of these allegations multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate the allegations. The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse."

Canadian soccer superstar Christine Sinclair of the Portland Thorns also raised her voice on social media.

"Protect the players. Protect women. It's everyone's responsibility to hold the standards and enforce accountability. Why are we still dealing with these mostly male transgressions? This is unacceptable," she wrote on Twitter. 

Portland Thorns investigation

The report also said Riley was hired by the now-defunct Western New York Flash despite a complaint over his behaviour that was shared with the league after his 2015 season with the Portland Thorns. The Courage was founded in 2017 after its owner acquired the franchise rights from the Flash.

The Thorns said on Thursday that they "conducted a thorough investigation" after receiving the complaint.

"While the findings did not show unlawful activity, they did uncover clear violations of our company policies. Based on this, we chose to sever ties with Riley," the team said.

"The findings of the investigation were fully shared with the NWSL league office."

Riley denies 'majority' of allegations

The Athletic said Riley denied "the majority" of the allegations detailed in the report.

"The Courage support the players who have come forward and we commend them for bravely sharing their stories," the Courage said in a statement, confirming Riley's termination.

Baird said the league was submitting the allegations from the Athletic report to the US Center for SafeSport and in implementing a new "anonymous reporting process" for players, team and league staffers.

"We ask our players and all associated with the league to raise their concerns to us, as we continue to make our league a safe, positive, and respectful environment," she said.

Players' association responds

The allegations rocked the world of professional soccer in North America, with the National Women's Soccer League Players' Association (NWSLPA) demanding sweeping change across the NWSL and accusing it of lacking "basic and fundamental protections that ensure dignity at work."

"Words cannot adequately capture our anger, pain, sadness, and disappointment," the NWSLPA said. "To the players who suffer in silence, know that the [NWSLPA] holds a safe space for you."