A report released last week revealed systemic sexual misconduct and abuse in the National Women’s Soccer League. The investigation was set in motion after former NWSL players Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly — the latter of whom played for the Virginia women’s soccer team from 2007 to 2010 — came forth with allegations of sexual assault against former NWSL coach Paul Riley in September 2021.
Following Farrelly coming forward with these allegations in 2021 and again after the release of the report last week, Virginia women’s soccer tweeted support for Farrelly.
“We hope that her courage and the courage of the other women’s players who have brought their stories forward brings about the change that is necessary to make the game safer for all,” the team tweeted Oct. 4.
Two NWSL team owners have already stepped down, and many former athletes are calling for sweeping changes to the leadership and policies of the league going forward.
As a student athlete at Virginia, Farrelly started over 90 games with over 7,000 minutes spent on the field. Following her graduation from the University, she played at the highest level of women’s soccer as a midfielder and was invited to play for the U.S. National Team twice.
In January of her senior year, she was drafted as a professional player by Riley in the 2011 Women’s Professional Soccer College Draft to play on the Philadelphia Independence, where Riley first began to treat her inappropriately.
“He really ingrained in my brain that I had a lot of potential, was one of the best players he’d ever seen — but I needed the right coach to get me to where I wanted to go,” Farrelly said in an interview with The Athletic.
Following the end of the 2011 season, the Independence lost in the championship and the team went out to mourn their loss at a bar. The 47-year old married coach coerced Farrelly for the first — but not the last — time into having sex with him.
Following this, Farrelly returned to the University to finish her final semester, where Riley sought her out for dinner and again coerced her into having sexual relations with him. After graduating from the University, Riley’s harassment continued when Farrelly joined the team in Long Island that Riley was coaching and Riley told her they would be “taking this to their graves.”
This is the latest in a long series of sexual misconduct and inappropriate actions towards players by coaches and other men in power in professional women’s sports, the most recent public example being the massive sex abuse scandal in women’s gymnastics involving former coach Larry Nassar.
“Because of that, I feel like there’s this idea that we should be grateful for what we have and we shouldn’t raise important questions — or ask questions at all,” U.S. national team forward Alex Morgan said in an interview with the Athletic.
Following incident after incident over the last several years, players have begun speaking out against attackers. After Farrelly came forward with allegations against Riley, The Athletic spoke with at least a dozen players from each of Riley’s teams and it was quickly discovered that his assault did not end with Farrelly.
Per reporting, several teammates of Farrelly and Shim said Riley made inappropriate comments about the weight and sexual orientation of players. Riley also coerced Farrelly and Shim into doing other sexual activities against their will — including forcing them to kiss one another while he watched and sending unsolicited pictures of himself.
Riley has denied the allegations, adding that the majority of them were “completely untrue.” The North Carolina Courage fired Riley following Farrelly’s allegations.
In partnership with the NWSL Players Association, the NWSL is conducting its own investigation into workplace misconduct within the NWSL, though a timeline for its completion is not clear.