NWSL announces permanent ban for ex-Thorns coach Paul Riley, other sanctions following misconduct investigation

Racing's Christy Holly, Red Stars' Rory Dames and Spirit's Richie Burke also banned from NWSL

Paul Riley won't ever coach or work in the NWSL. (Photo by Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).
Paul Riley won't ever coach or work in the NWSL again. (Photo by Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

The NWSL officially levied sanctions against multiple teams, individuals and organizations Monday following a months-long investigation that discovered "widespread misconduct" in and around the league.

Among the punishments handed out, commissioner Jessica Bartman announced four former coaches would be permanently banned from the league: Former Portland Thorns and North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley, former Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly, former Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames and Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke.

“The league will continue to prioritize implementing and enhancing the policies, programs and systems that put the health and safety of our players first," Bartman said in a statement. "Those actions are fundamental to the future of our league, especially as we build a league that strengthens our players’ ability to succeed and prosper on and off the pitch. As part of our commitment to accountability and deterrence, the league has determined that further corrective action with respect to certain organizations and individuals identified in the Joint Investigative Report is appropriate and necessary.”

The league assigned penalties based on a three-tiered structure based on: "the degree of severity of the misconduct that occurred, whether individuals in positions of power knew or should have known of the misconduct, the degree or repetition of the misconduct, evidence of retaliatory conduct, the proximate nature of the behavior or action to the present, and actions that failed to communicate the misconduct with others."

Riley, Holly, Dames and Burke were given Level One sanctions, which permanently bar them from employment in the league. Riley was at the center of The Athletic's 2021 article that outlined the abuse across the NWSL, but all four were named numerous times in the NWSL's 125-page report in December.

Eight other individuals were handed sanctions, two of which included two-year suspensions from the league. Former Utah Royals FC coach Craig Harrington and former Gotham FC general manager Alyse LaHue must meet certain requirements to qualify for future employment after their suspension ends in 2025. Per the NWSL, statement, that includes "acknowledging wrongdoing and accepting personal responsibility for inappropriate conduct, participating in training, and demonstrating a sincere commitment to correcting behavior."

The other six individuals (former OL Reign coach Farid Benstiti, former Houston Dash coaches James Clarkson and Vera Pauw and former Orlando Pride coaches Amanda Cromwell. Sam Greene and Aline Reis) must adhere to the NWSL's conditional requirements as well before taking another job in the league.

U.S. Soccer, NWSL clubs and league office also fined

Both U.S. Soccer and the NWSL league office were handed fines of no less than $1 million as well as requirements for systemic changes.

The Red Stars incurred the biggest fine of $1.5 million. Owner Arnim Whisler plans to sell the team after the club's board of directors ousted him as team chairman in October. The Portland Thorns were fined $1 million, something which was previously announced by owner Merritt Paulson when he announced he would sell the team in the wake of the investigation.

Racing Louisville was fined $200,000 and the North Carolina Courage was fined $100,000. Both must also hire coaches and general managers "completely distinct from the men's team with which it shares ownership." OL Reign and Gothan FC were also fined $50,000 each.

Two teams that were specifically mentioned in the statement but not fined were the Spirit and the Kansas City Current. The league determined that it would not impose corrective action on the Spirit since the team is under new ownership. The league didn't impose sanctions on the Current, either, because it did not find that anyone at the club retaliated against players, though the statement read that "it is concerning that several players raised concerns about being mistreated or retaliation."