The North Carolina Courage fired coach Paul Riley on Thursday after allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct were detailed in a published report.
The alleged misconduct, which includes claims of sexual coercion, stretched back more than a decade, according to the detailed account by The Athletic.
National Women’s Soccer League Commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement that the league is referring the allegations to the U.S. Center for SafeSport for investigation.
The league, in its ninth season, is also mandating that anyone who interacts with players participate in training with SafeSport and be subject to background checks and additional screening.
The NWSL is also implementing a new anonymous reporting process and vowed all reports would be promptly investigated.
“A safe and secure work environment is a top priority for the league and its collective ownership,” Baird said in the statement.
U.S. soccer said it is suspending Riley’s coaching license.
“U.S. Soccer is in communication with the NWSL as they review this matter and will work with them to ensure meaningful steps are taken to ensure a safe and supportive environment across the league,” the federation said.
The Courage released a statement on behalf of team owners, the staff and players commending the women who came forward.
“The North Carolina Football Club is united together in our commitment to creating a safe, positive, and respectful environment, not only within our club but across the league and our great sport,” the statement said.
The Courage appointed assistant Sean Nahas as interim head coach for the remainder of the season.
Former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim recounted their experiences with Riley to The Athletic. The alleged harassment of Farrelly started in 2011 when she was a player with the Philadelphia Independence of the Women’s Professional Soccer league.
She told the website that the abuse continued when Farrelly was with the Portland Thorns. Shim, a former Thorns player, also allegedly experienced harassment. Both women are no longer playing in the NWSL.
Riley told The Athletic the allegations were “completely untrue.”
Riley was head coach of the Thorns in 2014 and 2015. After he was dismissed by the Thorns, he became head coach of the Western New York Flash for a season before the team was sold and moved to North Carolina.
Riley was WPS Coach of the Year in 2011 and earned the same honors in the NWSL in 2017 and 2018. The Courage won the NWSL championship in 2018 and 2019.
The Thorns investigated Riley while he was with the team and reported the findings to the league.
“While the findings did not show unlawful activity, they did uncover clear violations of our company policies. Based on this, we chose to sever ties with Riley,” the Thorns said in a statement.
The statement also said: “The article is a difficult read and there are some horrifying revelations. We have grown since 2015 as an organization and will continue to seek to improve and get better. We will fully cooperate with any additional inquiries into this matter and, more importantly, re-examine our own processes and protocol that are intended to ensure a safe space.”
Alex Morgan, who now plays for the Orlando Pride but also played for the Thorns from 2013-15, in March led a group of players who asked the league to adopt policies to ensure safe and inclusive workplaces. The NWSL adopted its antiharassment policy in April.
Morgan posted on Twitter: “The league was informed of these allegations multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate the allegations. The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse.”
Morgan also posted copies of correspondence Farrelly exchanged with the league this year about Riley.
Sam Mewis, a player for the Courage and the World Cup-winning U.S. national team, posted her support for Farrelly and Shim on social media.
“The physical and psychological safety of the players in the NWSL is of the utmost importance,” Mewis wrote. “I’m still processing and reflecting on how I can be part of making a safer environment for players.”
The league has been rocked by several recent scandals involving team officials.
Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke was fired after a Washington Post report detailed verbal and emotional abuse of players. The league formally dismissed Burke and sanctioned the Spirit on Tuesday after an independent investigation.
Gotham FC general manager Alyse LaHue was fired in July after an investigation connected to the league’s antiharassment policy. She has denied any wrongdoing.
Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly was fired earlier this month but the reasons for his dismissal were not made public.