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Fired NWSL coach Paul Riley ‘is a predator’ who ‘harassed his players and coerced them into sex’

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Former National Women’s Soccer League players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim are speaking out about their allegations of sexual harassment and coercion against fired coach Paul Riley — problems that Shim says are widespread across the sport.

‘He’s a predator,’ Shim told NBC’s Today Show during a Tuesday morning interview with Farrelly and former US national team captain Alex Morgan. ‘He sexually harassed me. He sexually coerced Sinead. He took away our careers.’

Riley, the head coach of the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage, was fired last week over allegations of sexual harassment, sexual coercion and inappropriate comments about players’ weight and sexual orientation dating back more than a decade. Since the claims were revealed by The Athletic last week, the NWSL called off its weekend games and commissioner Lisa Baird stepped down Friday night.

Riley, now 58, told The Athletic the allegations were ‘completely untrue,’ adding that he’s ‘never had sex with or made sexual advances towards these players.’

Shim says she first complained about Riley in 2015 when she played for him on the Portland Thorns. But while the team declined to re-sign him when his contract expired, he was still hired by the NWSL’s Western New York Flash the following season and by the Courage in 2017.

Echoing statements by Morgan, Shim said the issue is systemic within women’s soccer.

‘I’m just so grateful for this opportunity to get these bad people out of the league and really shine a light on this issue, because it’s so prevalent,’ she said. ‘It’s just not this team, it’s not just this coach. It’s across the league, it’s across the sport, and we have to do something about it.’

Sinead Farrelly claims she was sexually harassed and coerced by former coach Paul Riley

Mana Shim says she first complained about Riley in 2015 when she played for him on the Portland Thorns. But while the team declined to re-sign him when his contract expired, he was still hired by the NWSL's Western New York Flash the next season and by the Courage in 2017

Mana Shim says she first complained about Riley in 2015 when she played for him on the Portland Thorns. But while the team declined to re-sign him when his contract expired, he was still hired by the NWSL’s Western New York Flash the next season and by the Courage in 2017

Alex Morgan told NBC that the NWSL wasn't equipped to handle sexual harassment claims

Alex Morgan told NBC that the NWSL wasn’t equipped to handle sexual harassment claims

Paul Riley (pictured), the head coach of the North Carolina Courage of the National Women's Soccer League, has been fired amid allegations of sexual harassment, sexual coercion and inappropriate comments about players' weight and sexual orientation

Paul Riley (pictured), the head coach of the North Carolina Courage of the National Women’s Soccer League, has been fired amid allegations of sexual harassment, sexual coercion and inappropriate comments about players’ weight and sexual orientation

Both Shim and Farrelly claim Riley often took them drinking and used those moments to pressure them into sex. In one alleged 2012 incident, Riley, a Liverpool native who was 47 and married at the time, took Farrelly and another player to his hotel room and had sex with both of them.

Riley’s refrain, which Farrelly said she often repeated to herself after having sex with her coach, was that they would be ‘taking this to their graves.’

The NWSL also launched an independent investigation Sunday into its handling of abuse claims. Both FIFA and US Soccer Federation (USSF) opened investigations into why he was able to continue coaching even after the players brought their concerns to the league.

According to Morgan, who played with Shim and for Riley in Portland, the issue was that the league was ill-equipped to handle these allegations.

‘When I look back, I tried to be as good a friend and teammate as possible to Shim in helping her file a complaint, when at the time there was no anti-harassment policy in place, there was no league HR, there was no anonymous hotline, there was no way to report,’ Morgan told NBC.

‘We’ve now started to put these things in place, by demand of players, not by the league being proactive. Something we ask is for the league to start being proactive, not reactive. We’re asking for transparency.’

Both Farrelly and Shim spoke frankly about the impact Riley’s alleged abuse had on their careers and personal wellbeing.

‘I think it’s just really important, and why we wanted to share our story and share in so much detail the damage that was done to our careers, but who we are as people,’ Farrelly said. ‘The damage to my self confidence and how I saw myself, it seeps into every part of your livelihood.

‘There is a lot of loss that comes with that, and things I will not get back. I think we can tap into the emotional impact of just showing up to try and be your authentic self, it can really hit home for a lot of people because it’s bigger than the sport. This is about safety in our own lives and in our bodies. The players deserve that. We all deserve that. That’s something that we all will fight for.’

Sinead Farrelly told The Athletic that there were multiple occasions in which she felt coerced into having sex with Riley, a decorated coach who reportedly had been considered for US national team duties.

Mana Shim

Riley’s dismissal followed a bombshell report on Thursday by The Athletic , which details the allegations made by former players Sinead Farrelly (left) and Mana Shim (right). Farrelly told The Athletic that there were multiple occasions in which she felt coerced into having sex with Riley, a decorated coach who reportedly had been considered for US national team duties. Shim, a former Thorns player, also allegedly experienced harassment, including one incident in which she says Riley asked her to kiss a teammate at his apartment on the condition that he would drop grueling conditioning exercises at the following practice

Both said they were extremely grateful to get support from fans and other players, such as Morgan.

‘I’m so overcome with gratitude at everyone who spoke out and supported us,’ Shim said. ‘I feel very, deeply sad and heartbroken about what happened, and it’s bringing up a lot of feelings that I was sitting with for years, but they were dormant.

‘I want more justice,’ she continued. ‘I want better policies. I want players to be protected, and at the same time, I feel like, we’re on the right path and I’m grateful for everyone who reached out and supported us.’

‘The only thing that got me through was my teammates. Alex and Sinead, they’re two of my best fiends, and thank God I have them. I just don’t know what I would do without them. Alex was the first person I told who said, ‘I would do anything to support you.’ And she was loyal from Day 1. And that’s really the only way I got through it. And I’m still damaged. This isn’t something that just goes away overnight because we talk about it.

Farrelly said the reaction to The Athletic story has given her ‘pain a purpose.’

‘That has been a liberation for me that I have not been able to feel for almost ten years,’ Farrelly said. ‘These women, too, Mana and Alex, and a couple of other women we worked with and every person who has reached out and shown support has turned this moment into a movement and made this matter.

‘I don’t have words, just pure gratitude. They have truly amplified our voices and just made this what it should be, which is a huge deal, demanding change. I feel really grateful and also very overwhelmed. It’s a lot.’

NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement that the league is referring the allegations to the US Center for SafeSport for investigation. She has since resigned from her position

NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement that the league is referring the allegations to the US Center for SafeSport for investigation. She has since resigned from her position 

Commissioner Lisa Baird says she has asked players to raise any concerns with the league

Commissioner Lisa Baird says she has asked players to raise any concerns with the league 

The alleged harassment of Farrelly started in 2011 when she was a player with the Philadelphia Independence of the Women’s Professional Soccer league. Farrelly told The Athletic that there were multiple occasions in which she felt coerced into having sex with Riley, a decorated coach who reportedly had been considered for US national team duties.

Riley was Women's Professional Soccer Coach of the Year in 2011 and earned the same honors in the NWSL in 2017 and 2018

Riley was Women’s Professional Soccer Coach of the Year in 2011 and earned the same honors in the NWSL in 2017 and 2018

Farrelly said the abuse continued when Riley coached her with the Portland Thorn of the NWSL. As she explained, Farrelly felt manipulated by Riley, who praised her talent to the media, but routinely threatened to demote her to a bench role.

Riley’s underlying message, according to Farrelly, was that she could become a great player, but needed him to make that happen.

‘He really ingrained in my brain that I had a lot of potential, was one of the best players he’d ever seen — but I needed the right coach to get me to where I wanted to go,’ Farrelly told The Athletic. ‘And that’s what he did, he took players and he made them great.’

For instance, when Farrelly returned from a brief call-up to the US national team in 2011, she says Riley told her she was disloyal to him and her teammates by accepting the assignment. She deserved the opportunity, but only if Riley were coaching her on that stage, Farrelly said of his mindset.

Weeks later, when the USWNT offered the final World Cup roster spot to Farrelly, she declined.

Farrelly told the website that the abuse continued when she was with the Portland Thorns of the NWSL, but the two never had sex during his tenure there.

In an recent email to Baird that has since been shared on social media by Morgan, Farrelly said she reported her claims against Riley to the league in 2015, but the NWSL took no action

In an recent email to Baird that has since been shared on social media by Morgan, Farrelly said she reported her claims against Riley to the league in 2015, but the NWSL took no action

Instead, when Farrelly began dating a teammate, Riley allegedly started making comments about her relationship, saying she was ‘too hot to be a lesbian.’

‘I would have these daydreams about getting hurt and not having to play again,’ Farrelly said.

Shim, a former Thorns player, also allegedly experienced harassment, including one incident in which she says Riley asked her to kiss a teammate at his apartment on the condition that he would drop grueling conditioning exercises at the following practice.

‘I felt from the beginning like I owed him,’ Shim told The Athletic.

Both women are no longer playing in the NWSL.

Riley was head coach of the Thorns in 2014 and 2015. After he was dismissed by the Thorns, he became head coach of the Western New York Flash for a season before the team was sold and moved to North Carolina.

He was Women’s Professional Soccer Coach of the Year in 2011 and earned the same honors in the NWSL in 2017 and 2018. The Courage won the NWSL championship in 2018 and 2019.

Morgan claimed the league knew about the allegations but flatly refused to investigate

Morgan claimed the league knew about the allegations but flatly refused to investigate 

The Thorns investigated Riley while he was with the team and reported the findings to the league.

‘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 Thorns said in a statement.

National team star Samantha Mewis also offered her support to Farrelly and Shim

National team star Samantha Mewis also offered her support to Farrelly and Shim

The statement also said: ‘The article is a difficult read and there are some horrifying revelations. We have grown since 2015 as an organization and will continue to seek to improve and get better. We will fully cooperate with any additional inquiries into this matter and, more importantly, re-examine our own processes and protocol that are intended to ensure a safe space.’

Before resigning, Baird said in a statement that the league is referring the allegations to the US Center for SafeSport for investigation.

The league, in its ninth season, is also mandating that anyone who interacts with players participate in training with SafeSport and be subject to background checks and additional screening.

The Courage released a statement on behalf of team owners, the staff and players commending the women who came forward.

‘The North Carolina Football Club is united together in our commitment to creating a safe, positive, and respectful environment, not only within our club but across the league and our great sport,’ the statement said.

The Courage appointed assistant Sean Nahas as interim head coach for the remainder of the season.

US national team captain Megan Rapinoe thanked The Athletic's Meg Linehan for her report

US national team captain Megan Rapinoe thanked The Athletic’s Meg Linehan for her report

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