#NoMoreSilence: Women soccer players show support to athletes who have faced abuse

Washington Spirit and NJ/NY Gotham FC players cause a stoppage midway through the first half and gather in unity for U.S. women’s team players, during an NWSL soccer match on Oct. 6, 2021. Caption from NY Post, photo courtesy of Charles Fox/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP.

Jamie Blodgett | Contributing Writer

On Oct. 6, several National Women’s Soccer League players linked arms six minutes into their matches.

The teams include NJ/NY Gotham FC, Washington Spirit, NC Courage and Racing Louisville FC. This comes as a direct response following the allegations against former NC Courage coach Paul Riley.

Standing together at midfield, the players stopped the game for one minute to honor the six years it took for Mana Shim, Sinead Farrelly and all those who fought to be heard.

The Players Association commented on what would happen after the game, saying players will not “answer any questions that do not relate to abuse and systemic change in NWSL.” 

Riley was fired as a result from an article published by The Athletic. This article noted accusations against Riley of sexual coercion. Riley was also noted to have made inappropriate comments about players’ weight and sexual orientations. These allegations plagued three leagues for three teams, for six years.

Farrelly and Shim both shared incidences with The Athletic of times when Riley allegedly sexually coerced the former players, including an incident that took place in 2015. Shim took to the franchise’s front office several days after the 2015 season ended to put in a complaint against Riley; however, Riley stayed employed with the league. Riley was then rehired in 2016 by the Western New York Flash (the franchise that ultimately relocated to North Carolina). Riley was fired Sept. 30, followed by the retirement announcement of Lisa Baird, the NWSL commissioner Oct. 1.

On the same night, FIFA and the U.S. Soccer Federation announced the beginning of its own investigation, but it did not end with just Riley.

Spirit majority owner Steve Baldwin announced his plan to resign from his roles as the CEO and managing partner on Tuesday. This came after the club announced last week that it had fired coach Richie Burke due to being suspended for allegations of verbal and emotional abuse back in August.

Burke was fired for harassment and creating a toxic work environment for female employees, per a Washington Post investigation. In the report, former soccer players said Burke “made racially insensitive jokes” and characterized him as being “unbelievably volatile.”

The Spirit players fight went public on Oct. 5 as they posted statements on their social media pages calling for him to sell the team to Y. Michele Kang. They voiced that who they trust is Kang as she “continuously puts players’ needs and interests first.”

The problem extends further as Farid Benstiti, former coach for OL Reign, was forced to resign in July after inappropriate comments were made during training. Then, Christy Holly, former coach for Racing Louisville, was also fired earlier this season. Former Gotham FC Generam Manager Alyse LaHue was dismissed for violating the league’s anti-harassment policy. 

Another article from Sports Illustrated published on Sept. 30 details the toxic nature of the University of San Francisco men’s soccer program in graphic detail.

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