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NC Courage fined, former coach expelled from NWSL for life

Former NC Courage head coach Paul Riley
Mitchell Northam
File photo of former North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley crouching on the sideline in Cary during a 2019 game. The Courage fired Riley after allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct.

Former North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley has been permanently banned from the National Women's Soccer League. The league also fined the Courage $100,000 and, moving forward, will require the club to hire supporting staff completely distinct from the men's team, North Carolina F.C.

In 2021, multiple former players of Riley accused him of sexual coercion. Riley was the Courage head coach at the time; the allegations spanned multiple years, including when Riley was coaching different teams. Chicago Red Stars and Portland Thorns faced higher fines of $1.5 million and $1 million respectively and both clubs will be sold to new owners.

Monday evening, NC Courage responded to the league's decision in support. "We stand firmly with the league, the NWSL Players Association and fellow clubs in holding player safety and well-being as our top priority," according to a statement released by the club. "While we still have much work ahead of us, we have made significant strides as an organization and are committed to making the necessary investments in our club and continuing the positive work for the future of our players, club, and league."

Allegations first came to light in The Athletic, which prompted a joint investigation by the NWSL and the league's players' association, the NWSLPA. The 128-page report detailed several instances of misconduct.

"Paul Riley engaged in sexual misconduct towards Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim," according to the report. Farrelly and Shim played under Riley. "When Riley was Farrelly’s coach prior to the NWSL, he coerced Farrelly into having sexual intercourse on several occasions."

Riley was not the only NWSL coach investigated in the report. The NWSL also permanently banned three other coaches – Christy Holly, Rory Dames, and Richie Burke – in its effort to bring systemic changes to the league.

In a statement, the NWSL Players Association supported the broad action taken by the league.

"This marks a critical step towards holding clubs and team leaders accountable for their actions, or inactions, that compromised and betrayed player safety," the association said.

NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman handed down the sanction.

In a statement, she said the "league and its clubs have taken meaningful steps to begin this structural reform, and understand and accept the continual commitment to enhancing league standards that are necessary to build a safe and positive environment for our players, staff, fans and partners."

A number of other individuals will be allowed to return to positions in the NWSL on certain conditions, including acknowledging misconduct, participating in training and committing to appropriate behavior. They included former Reign coach Farid Benstiti, former Houston Dash coaches Vera Pauw and James Clarkson, former Orlando Pride coach Amanda Cromwell and assistants Sam Greene and Aline Reis.

Several other teams were also fined: The Chicago Red Stars fine is $1.5 million, the Portland Thorns at $1 million, and Racing Louisville $200,000. The Regin and Gotham were each fined $50,000.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jason deBruyn is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Digital News, a position he took in 2024. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016 as a reporter.
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