National Women’s Football League commissioner Lisa Baird has resigned after about 19 months on the job over allegations that a former coach has committed sexual harassment and misconduct.
National Women’s Football League commissioner Lisa Baird has resigned after about 19 months on the job amid allegations that a former coach engaged in acts of sexual harassment and misconduct.
Baird’s resignation was announced by the league on Friday night, a day after Athletic released accounts from two former players who claimed North Carolina coach Paul Riley had committed misconduct, including a sexual coercion.
Riley was fired by Courage on Thursday and the allegations sparked a wave of condemnation from players who forced this weekend’s games to be canceled.
In addition, FIFA on Friday opened an investigation into the case. It is rare that the international football governing body is involved in a controversy involving a member association. US Soccer also announced an independent investigation on Friday.
US Soccer was instrumental in founding the NWSL in 2013 and helped support the league until last year when it gained independence. The federation continues its financial support to the league.
“Safety and respect for the players is the primary responsibility of everyone involved in this game. This is true regardless of age, competition and skill level,” said American Football President Cindy. Cone, in a statement. “We owe it to every athlete, fan and the entire football community to take all meaningful steps in our power to ensure that nothing like this happens again.”
US Soccer suspended Riley’s coaching license on Thursday after The Athletic published allegations of abuse by former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim.
FIFA told The Associated Press it was “deeply concerned” about the case and will now seek further details from US football authorities on the issues raised.
“Due to the gravity and gravity of the allegations made by the players, we can confirm that FIFA’s judicial bodies are actively investigating the case and have opened a preliminary investigation,” FIFA said in a statement to the AP. “In this connection, FIFA will contact the respective parties, including US Soccer and NWSL, to obtain further information on the various protection concerns and allegations of abuse that have been raised.”
Farrelly’s alleged harassment began in 2011 when she was a player with the Philadelphia Independence of the now defunct women’s professional football league.
She told the website that the harassment continued while Farrelly was with the Portland Thorns. Shim, a former Thorns player, has also reportedly suffered harassment. The Thorns said Thursday the team investigated the allegations about Riley and passed them on to the league when he was fired.
Riley told The Athletic the allegations were “completely untrue”.
The outcry over the allegations rocked the league and forced this weekend’s games to be canceled. The NWSL Players Association said they hoped fans would understand and support the decision.
“It’s good to take up space to treat, feel and take care of yourself,” the union said. “In fact, it’s more than correct, it’s a priority. That, as players, will be our goal this weekend. “
Baird became commissioner of the NWSL in February 2020, after serving as director of marketing for the United States Olympic Committee. She was praised for bringing new sponsors to the NWSL and increasing the league’s visibility on the national stage.
OL Reign midfielder Jess Fishlock, who has played in the NWSL since its inception in 2013, has suggested the league, and women’s sport in general, are in the process of taking their toll.
“I think female athletes in particular have been through so much over the years, not just women’s football,” said Fishlock. “I think everyone knows what’s happened with USA Gymnastics, and it’s something that’s been happening over and over in women’s sport for years and years and years. And we never felt safe enough to talk about it, and if we ever felt brave enough to talk about it, then it would just be swept under the rug, or we were told we were wrong and I think we’re to a point now where we just did.
Riley was head coach of the Thorns in 2014 and 2015. After being let go by the Thorns, he became head coach of the Western New York Flash for a season before the team was sold and transferred to North Carolina.
In its ninth season, the NWSL has been rocked by a series of recent scandals involving team officials.
Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke was fired after a Washington Post report detailed the players’ verbal and emotional abuse. The league officially sacked Burke and sanctioned the Spirit on Tuesday after an independent investigation.
Gotham FC chief executive Alyse LaHue was sacked in July after an investigation into the league’s anti-harassment policy. She denied any wrongdoing.
Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly was sacked in September, but the reasons for his sack have not been made public.
OL coach Reign Farid Benstiti abruptly resigned in July. OL Reign CEO and minority owner Bill Predmore said on Friday that Benstiti had been asked to step down after an undisclosed incident during training.
Benstiti had previously been accused by US national team midfielder Lindsay Horan of sexist behavior during his tenure as Paris Saint-Germain coach. Horan said she was reprimanded by Benstiti because of her weight.
AP Sports writer Eddie Pells contributed to this report.
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