After spending nearly a week grappling with the aftermath of allegations of sexual harassment and mistreatment against a prominent coach, the National Women’s Soccer League players have returned to the field in hopes of regaining their sport.
PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) – After nearly a week of dealing with the aftermath of allegations of sexual harassment and mistreatment against a prominent coach, the National Women’s Soccer League players have returned to the field in hopes of regaining their sport.
“I think with that kind of heaviness comes the realization that things have to change. We mourned a lot for our teammates, we found a lot of facts, we had a lot of big discussions about where this league should go and how it should look, ”said Portland Das Dornen defender Meghan Klingenberg. “And the only thing that occurs to me and us over and over again is that this will continue without a say in the league, without power, without the financial means to protect us.”
The league canceled games last weekend after allegations were made against North Carolina coach Paul Riley. Riley was fired and NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird resigned amid the aftermath while FIFA and US football opened an investigation.
The players resumed the season on Wednesday evening but made a strong statement in each of the three scheduled games by pausing play in the sixth minute and gathering with the coaches in a midfield circle.
The action was a demonstration of unity as well as a gesture of solidarity with former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, who reached out to The Athletic to report alleged harassment and wrongdoing, including sexual assault. Riley denies the allegations.
“It was just a lot,” said Klingenberg, who, along with her teammates, wore a warm-up shirt that said “No More Silence” before a game against the Houston Dash.
It was a tumultuous season for the top women’s professional soccer league in the United States.
Before the allegations against Riley were made public last week, Washington Spirit head coach Richie Burke fired for violating the league’s anti-harassment policy.
OL Reign’s trainer, Farid Benstiti, was asked to resign in July for behavior during team training. Gotham FC fired General Manager Alyse LaHue this summer for violating its anti-harassment policy. Racing Louisville fired coach Christ Holly in early September for reasons unknown.
Reign defender Lauren Barnes said there was a reckoning in the league running into its ninth season: it’s time to listen to the players.
“I think that was the biggest problem, not necessarily how calm we were, it takes us seriously and believes us,” said Barnes. “And I think that this was the biggest fight for women in probably any field of work, whether athletic or non-sport-related, is believed and always has to fight for ourselves.”
It’s not just a problem for the NWSL. Two dozen players from the Venezuelan national team came forward this week publicly with allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against a former national football association coach.
In Australia, Lisa De Vanna accused former senior team players of harassment and bullying when she was called up in 2001 at the age of 17.
“In any sports organization and in any environment, grooming, hunting and unprofessional behavior make me sick,” De Vanna told the Sydney Daily Telegraph.
Farrelly and Shim shared Riley’s alleged wrongdoing from his time with the Philadelphia Impact of the Women’s Professional Soccer League. Riley later coached the Thorns for the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
The Thorns decided not to renew Riley’s contract with the team after investigating a complaint. The team passed these results on to the league. Riley trained the Western New York Flash, which was eventually sold and moved to North Carolina as Courage.
Courageous players said nothing after Wednesday night’s game against Racing Louisville, as did interim coach Sean Nahas.
The Thorns issued a statement in part calling for Portland General Manager Gavin Wilkinson to be removed from his role. Management announced shortly after that Wilkinson had been suspended from duties related to the Thorns, but not the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer, while the matter was investigated.
“We wholeheartedly support everyone who moves forward with their history and struggles, and we want to honor that pain by making sure we get to the bottom of things and not blow them up or put them in the spotlight.” if they don’t want it, ”said Klingenberg. “But we feel that it is really important to know what happened here so that it doesn’t happen in other places.”
In Cary, North Carolina, season ticket holder Ginny Ditzel wiped away her tears during the pre-game player introduction on Wednesday night.
“It’s tough,” said Ditzel. “My heart is breaking. You work so hard. You get paid peanuts. You play your heart to please us fans.”
Ditzel added: “You deserve better.”
North Carolina AP freelancer Bob Sutton contributed to this report.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written, or redistributed.