Anne Belevetz '23
The National Women’s Soccer League is currently under fire after recent reports of sexual misconduct, inappropriate comments, homophobic comments, and other questionable behavior from the league’s coaches. In many women’s sports, or just sports in general, there have been inappropriate actions reported by coaches for a long time. In more recent weeks, women’s soccer players have been stepping up to share their stories about their coaches and the truth about how the league has reacted.
Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim played together on Portland Thorns FC where Paul Riley coached them. The beginning of this October, Farrelly and Shim came forward with the truth about Paul Riley. They accused Paul Riley of sexual coercion and harassment. Although this was not the first time they had complained about Riley, they filed complaints against him in 2015, and nothing to their knowledge has been done either of the times. Farrelly said that in 2015, Riley had pressured players, including Shim and Farrelly, to kiss in order for the team to avoid extra conditioning. When Shim and Farrelly reported this, the club they were playing for did not renew Riley’s contract but he was hired shortly after by another NWSL team. In early 2021, the NWSL made an anti-harassment policy and Shim and Farrelly asked the league to reinvestigate Riley, which they did not do.
Shim and Farrelly came forward in an interview with The Athletic in which they exposed Paul Riley and finally, he was terminated from his position by the NWSL. The league then canceled all matches for October 1st and 2nd. Since then, league commissioners have resigned, club owners have resigned, and investigations are being opened in the NWSL community. US Soccer President Cindy Cone stated that the league owed it to not only to players but also to fans to make the league safe and to ensure the safety and respect of female players.
To better understand some female athletes’ reactions, I spoke to Ali Barrow ‘23 and Mackenzie Davis ‘22 from the soccer team to see their reactions to the Sexual Abuse Reports in women’s soccer. When asked how female soccer players were reacting to this, Ali told me that she follows a bunch of NWSL players on Instagram and they are coming together to make statements about what has been happening in the league. Mackenzie answered on more of a high school player level and said, “They(female soccer players) are extremely upset because this shows the abuse they face in female oppression historically throughout literally anything ever.” Mackenzie went on to explain that this shows there is still work to be done in terms of modern feminism.
I went on to ask them how these reports made them feel individually as players. Ali responded, “As a player it feels a lot like two steps forward and one step back, you know we’re finally getting a league and finally getting press and then oh here’s another sexual assault allegation oh here’s another corruption oh here’s another issue and it’s like we keep moving backwards everytime there’s progress made.” Mackenzie felt similarly and hopes the league can make improvements to prevent these types of things from happening again which led me to my next question: What reforms do you think need to be made in the NWSL to prevent events like these from happening again? Ali and Mackenzie said the league should work harder on making sure the coaches are not just good coaches, but also good people that will lift the players up.
I also spoke to Coach Koroma about her take on this as the Athletic Director for Girls. She said when she first heard about these sexual assault reports she was, “Initially, kinda depressed because it seems to be the same story over and over again with different organizations that involve womens sports or even sports in general where women are in the workplace.” She said she thought some workplaces, like the NWSL, were not creating safe environments for women and that needed to be addressed. I then asked her if she felt the need to protect our female athletes more than the male athletes? She responded saying, she just thinks there are different protections for females and males. She said generally, women have not been in positions of power so organizations need to make an extra effort to champion women and make sure they are creating a positive environment for them.