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Sports

NC Courage Coach Paul Riley Fired After Accusations Of Sexual Coercion By Former Players

Paul Riley
Mitchell Northam
/
WUNC
Paul Riley has been the North Carolina Courage head coach since the team moved to Cary from Western New York in 2017. He was fired by the team Thursday, Sept. 30 after two former players accused him of sexual coercion.

Updated 6:40 p.m.

The North Carolina Courage announced Thursday afternoon that the team has fired head coach Paul Riley, effective immediately. The decision comes after multiple former players accused Riley of sexual coercion.

The allegations were detailed in a lengthy investigative story published by The Athletic Thursday morning. Sean Nahas has been named as interim head coach for the rest of the season, the team says. He starts that position at today's training.

In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said she was "shocked and disgusted to read the new allegations" and that the NWSL is reporting the allegations to the US Center for SafeSport for investigation. She said the league is also implementing new measures to protect players including a new anonymous reporting process.

According to The Athletic, players contacted Baird directly earlier this year with their concerns. Baird told them a previous 2015 investigation into Riley's behavior had been "investigated to conclusion," the outlet reports.

On Thursday evening, the U.S. Soccer Federation said it had suspended Riley's coaching license, effective immediately.

Reporters of The Athletic piece say they spoke with more than a dozen players representing every team Riley has coached since 2010, and 10 other sources within women’s soccer. Sinead Farrelly and Meleana Shim spoke on the record with the Athletic, claiming Riley coerced them into sex and sexual acts when they played for clubs he coached in Philadelphia, Long Island and Portland.

Courage player Samantha Mewis, who re-signed with the team in May after a stint in England, expressed support for Farrelly and Shim.

"I am horrified to read the details of what happened to them. The league needs to do whatever is necessary to make them (and other victims, like Kaiya [McCullough]) feel heard, believed, and protected," Mewis wrote in a Twitter post.

Riley has been the coach of the Courage since the club moved to Cary, North Carolina, from the Buffalo-based Western New York Flash in 2017. The Courage have won a pair of National Women’s Soccer League Championships under his watch and he has twice been named NWSL Coach of the Year.

In an email to the Athletic, Riley said the majority of the allegations were “completely untrue” and he added, “I have never had sex with, or made sexual advances towards these players.”

On Thursday morning, the NWSL Players Association demanded that the league initiate an independent investigation into the allegations against Riley and that Riley be suspended immediately.

While she was playing for the Philadelphia Independence in 2011, Farrelly says that Riley coerced her into his hotel room where they had sex. According to Farrelly, Riley told her that they would be taking that night “to their graves.” Farrelly said that Riley coerced her and another teammate into having sex with him in 2012 too, when she played for and he coached the New York Fury. In 2015, Shim and Farrelly were teammates on the Riley-coached Portland Thorns, and they claim that Riley led them to his hotel room where he pressured them to kiss each other.

Farrelly told the Athletic: “I felt under his control.”

Both women say that Riley also sent inappropriate photos of himself to them. Both women, and other sources in the story, say that Riley made inappropriate comments about players’ weight and sexual orientation, too.

Shim filed a complaint against Riley with the Thorns’ human resources director in 2015. At the end of the season, Riley’s contract was not renewed by the Thorns, but he was hired a few months later as the head coach of the Western New York Flash, where he coached the team to an NWSL championship in 2016 before the club was bought by Medfusion founder Steve Malik and moved to Cary in 2017.

Riley — a 58-year-old native of Liverpool, England — coached the Courage to NWSL championships in 2018 and 2019. The Courage are 8-6-5 this season and in third place in the NWSL table.

These allegations brought forth against Riley come just days after another NWSL coach was dismissed for violating the league’s anti-harassment policy. Former Washington Spirit head coach Richie Burke was fired Tuesday, nearly a month after the Washington Post reported on Burke’s pattern of verbal and emotional abuse of players.

The Courage are scheduled to host the Spirit in Cary at WakeMed Soccer Park on Friday at 7 p.m.

On Wednesday, the Courage postponed Riley’s weekly pre-match press conference four minutes before it was scheduled to begin.

WUNC's Laura Pellicer contributed to this report.

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