The National Women’s Soccer League felt some of the reverberations from the controversy over the handling of sexual assault allegations against a former coach on Wednesday night in the first set of games back from a weekend pause.
Players during games between Gotham FC and the Washington Spirit and the North Carolina Courage and Racing Louisville stopped on the field during the sixth minute of their matches. Players linked arms in a circle to demonstrate solidarity with two former players who came forward with the sexual assault allegations against former Courage coach Paul Riley.
CLICK HERE FOR MORE SPORTS COVERAGE ON FOXNEWS.COM
North Carolina Courage and Racing Louisville FC players pause and gather at midfield during the first half of an NWSL soccer match in Cary, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. (Associated Press)
“Tonight, we reclaim our place on the field, because we will not let our joy be taken from us,” the NWSL Players’ Association said in a statement. “But this is not business as usual.”
Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly shed light on the alleged sexual misconduct in a bombshell report from The Athletic. Farrelly said the alleged harassment started in 2011 when she was a player for the Philadelphia Independence of the now-defunct Women’s Professional Soccer league and continued when she joined the NWSL’s Portland Thorns. Shim said she had a similar experience.
The Thorns said last week Riley was placed on administrative leave during an investigation in 2015 but the probe yielded “clear violations of our company policies” and severed ties with him. On Wednesday, Thorns players released a joint statement demanding change within in the club including placing general manager Gavin Wilkinson on administrative leave until an investigation is concluded.
North Carolina Courage players take a knee during the national anthem prior to the team’s NWSL soccer match against Racing Louisville FC in Cary, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. (Associated Press)
NWSL ANNOUNCES NEW EXECUTIVE GROUP AFTER HARASSMENT SCANDAL
The organization complied.
“Effectively immediately, Portland Thorns FC have placed general manager/president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson on administrative leave from Thorns duties pending the results of the outside independent investigation, which is ongoing,” the club said in a statement.
Wilkinson is also the general manager of Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers.
Earlier in the day, Courage owner Steve Malik posted an open letter on the club’s website. He said the Courage “conducted due diligence” in retaining Riley and the coaching staff after Malik bought the team in 2017.
Fans watch during the first half of an NWSL soccer match between the North Carolina Courage and Racing Louisville FC in Cary, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. (Associated Press)
“We were made aware of an investigation into Mr. Riley’s behavior in 2015 and were subsequently assured that he was in good standing,” Malik wrote. “During his employment with the Courage, we had no knowledge of allegations of sexual harassment or coercion. When we learned of the horrific allegations in last week’s reporting, we took those seriously and immediately terminated Mr. Riley.”
Riley has denied the allegations. He coached the Thorns in 2014 and 2015 and then was the coach of the Western New York Flash before the team was sold and moved to North Carolina.
The Courage fired Riley after allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct. The allegations were first reported by The Athletic in a story Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, that detailed misconduct stretching back more than a decade. (Associated Press)
CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP
U.S. Soccer and FIFA are also investigating the league’s handling of the Riley matter. The fallout resulted in the resignation of Lisa Baird as NWSL commissioner.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.