NWSL players stop games to protest on field, issue demands amid sexual harassment scandal

·3 min read

NWSL players are taking a stand amid a league-wide sexual harassment and coercion scandal.

Players from the Washington Spirit and Gotham FC all stopped play in the sixth minute of their match on Wednesday night and linked arms in protest, making for a powerful statement after disturbing allegations of sexual harassment and coercion were made last week against former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley.

The NWSL Players Association also issued a list of demands regarding the investigation into the scandal.

NWSL players stop games in protest

Spirit and Gotham FC players on the field and on their respective benches all stopped play and walked to midfield to link arms in a circle for one minute on Wednesday night.

The NSWLPA put out a statement announcing that players from the other two games on Wednesday night — the Courage-Louisville match and the Thorns-Dash match — would follow suit with a similar protest.

“Teams will stop play in each of tonight’s games at the sixth minute,” the statement said. “Players will join together in solidarity at the center circle for one minute in recognition of the six years it took for Mana, Sinead and all those who fought for too long to be heard.

“We call on fans to stand in silence with us. During that time, we ask you to stand in that pain and discomfort with us, as we consider what too many of us have been asked to sit with for too long.”

The NWSLPA also said that all players will “refuse to answer any questions that do not relate to abuse and systemic change in NWSL” on Wednesday night.

NWSLPA issues list of demands

Riley was fired last week after a report from The Athletic detailed sexual harassment and coercion allegations made against him dating back to at least 2010. Among other things, he allegedly made a player sit on his lap during a car ride and later coerced her into having sex with him, and allegedly made two players kiss to prevent the team from running extra laps.

Riley was fired hours after that report, and NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird resigned a day later. The league canceled all games last weekend. Play officially resumed on Wednesday night.

Courage owner Steve Malik spoke out Wednesday for the first time and apologized for his “failure” with Riley, though he insisted that he was unaware of the allegations until last week. Baird said the same thing in a statement, though she was called out by Alex Morgan on Twitter — who posted receipts of emails about the allegations sent to Baird earlier this year.

The NWSL, FIFA and U.S. Soccer have all launched investigations into the allegations. The NWSLPA issued a list of demands regarding the league’s investigation, largely demanding full transparency and league-wide cooperation.

Thorns place GM on leave amid investigation

The Portland Thorns placed general manager and president Gavin Wilkinson on administrative leave on Wednesday night pending the results of an outside investigation into the scandal, the team announced on Twitter.

Riley's contract with the Thorns was not renewed in 2015, though the club said last week that it was unaware of the allegations against him until The Athletic's report.

Some of the allegations against him were from incidents that occurred while he was the club's head coach, and the Thorns investigated him in 2015. Yet that investigation, the team said in a statement, did not show any unlawful activity but did "uncover clear violations of our company policies." The team said it shared all findings of that investigation with the NWSL.