North Carolina Courage fire coach Paul Riley amid ‘serious allegations of misconduct’

The North Carolina Courage fired coach Paul Riley on Thursday amid allegations spanning over a decade of sexual coercion and inappropriate comments about players’ weight and sexual orientation.

The announcement came after The Athletic published an investigation in which it talked to more than a dozen players from every team Riley has coached since 2010, including two named players who went on the record with allegations against him.

A club statement on Thursday read: “In light of today’s reports, the North Carolina Courage have terminated Head Coach Paul Riley, effective immediately, following serious allegations of misconduct.

“The Courage support the players who have come forward and we commend them for bravely sharing their stories. 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.

“As previously stated, players and staff are encouraged to report any inappropriate behavior in accordance with NWSL policy as we prioritize efforts to maintain the highest professional standards of conduct throughout our organization.”

The club also announced that Sean Nahas will be interim head coach for the remainder of the campaign.

The U.S. Soccer Federation also suspended Riley’s coaching license effective immediately, releasing a statement that said the “abusive behavior described by the courageous athletes who have come forward is repulsive, unacceptable and has zero place in soccer or society.”

Earlier on Thursday, the National Women’s Soccer League Players Association called for an investigation into the allegations. The players’ union has said that in addition to supporting the two former players — Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim — who came out against Riley, it also backs Kaiya McCullough, who was part of a Washington Post investigation into former Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke.

Riley, in an email to The Athletic, said the majority of the allegations are “completely untrue.”

NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird also responded with a statement and said she was “shocked” and “disgusted” by the allegations.

“A safe and secure work environment is a top priority for the league and its collective ownership,” she said in a statement Thursday. “The league has in place a comprehensive anti-harassment/anti-discrimination policy.

“We are implementing a new anonymous reporting process, whereby players, team and league staff may text concerns to the league, which will be promptly investigated,” she added. “We ask our players and all associated with the league to raise their concerns to us, as we continue to make our league a safe, positive, and respectful environment for our players, clubs, staff, and fans.”

The Portland Thorns, who hired Riley as coach in 2014 and then cut ties with him in 2015 due to similar allegations, released a statement of their own, saying they had notified the NWSL of their investigation into his actions at the time.

The Thorns said: “Immediately upon receiving a complaint from a player in 2015, we conducted a thorough investigation advised by an outside law firm and placed Riley on administrative leave. 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 findings of the investigation were fully shared with the NWSL league office.”

Two-time U.S. World Cup winners Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride) and Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign) were among the prominent players who voiced their outrage and called for change.

Information from Reuters was included in this report.

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