Former players have accused now-former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley of sexual coercion spanning multiple teams and leagues since 2010, according to The Athletic.
Midfielder Sinead Farrelly played for Riley with three teams across three leagues, beginning in 2011. Farrelly told The Athletic that Riley often sat next to her at a bar where he regularly took the team, and eventually, she started to share deeply personal information with him.
When the team gathered in a crowded passenger van after their loss in the 2011 WPS final, Farrelly said she had to sit on Riley’s lap and he grabbed her hips.
“I felt claimed,” Farrelly told The Athletic. “That word honestly describes it perfectly for me, because I have this feeling that he went around and he looked at his prospects, and he zeroed in on me. He claimed me; that’s what his touch felt like. I just remember thinking: Is anyone else seeing this?”
Farrelly and Riley ended up in front of his hotel room, she said, and they both went in. Farrelly said that she felt Riley coerced her into having sex with him, and she spent the night in his room.
Riley’s alleged sexual coercion towards Farrelly continued during the offseason and later when she played for his semi-pro team in Long Island in 2012.
Farrelly joined Kansas City FC in the newly-formed NWSL in 2013, and then Riley traded for her when the Portland Thorns hired him later that year. He haunted Farrelly mentally and emotionally, she said. She even collapsed in a July 2014 game due to the toll it took on her.
Riley’s pattern of drinking with his players continued during his time with the Thorns.
“He really commands the kind of social culture he wants on the team,” an anonymous player who played for Riley in Portland said. “He has the authority. People don’t really push him on it, everyone accepts that just how he is. You’re trying to survive in his hierarchy.”
Ahead of the Thorns’ 2015 season, Meleana “Mana” Shim became entangled in the “social culture” that Riley had cultivated in Portland and in his previous teams. Over time, he started texting Shim more often and asked her to watch film with him, even sometimes at his apartment and in his hotel room.
After a night when the team went out to a bar, Farrelly and Shim ended up at Riley’s apartment. He offered them more alcohol in his apartment, the two players said, and asked Shim to dance with him and pressured the two teammates to kiss so the team wouldn’t have to run a suicide mile drill that week.
With the help of teammate Alex Morgan, Shim emailed a complaint to Thorns owner Merritt Paulson and HR director Nancy Garcia Ford in 2015. Garcia Ford met with Shim about her complaint. Shim said Garcia Ford told her that she didn’t have a legal claim because Shim was unable to provide any corroborating evidence.
That fall, the Thorns announced that Riley would not be retained for a third season. From the outside, it looked like the team’s poor results had forced Portland’s hand. This week, Paulson acknowledged to The Athletic that the findings of the investigation factored in the team’s decision.
Riley continued to coach women’s soccer after his Thorns firing. He was fired by the Courage later on Thursday after The Athletic’s story was published.
After the NWSL adopted a new anti-harassment policy earlier this year, Farrelly and Shim contacted the league to ask for a new investigation into Riley’s behavior. League commissioner Lisa Baird thanked them for raising their concerns but informed both former players the 2015 complaint was “investigated to conclusion,” and that she could not share any details.
On Wednesday, Riley responded to a list of 23 questions from The Athletic about his alleged conduct with an email in which he stated that the majority of the allegations are “completely untrue.” He wrote: “I have never had sex with, or made sexual advances towards these players.” He said he sometimes socialized with players and occasionally picked up bar tabs, “but I do not take them out drinking.”
He conceded that over the course of his career “there’s a chance I’ve said something along the way that offended someone,” but he added, “I do not belittle my players, comment on their weight, or discuss their personal relationships.” Riley also denied holding film sessions in his hotel room.
The Courage said in a statement: “When we hired Paul, we made perfectly clear the expectations of the job and the values of our club, and from what we know, he has lived up to those expectations. If there are any players or staff that wish to come forward in accordance with NWSL league policy, we encourage them to report any inappropriate behavior as we will continue to uphold the standard of maintaining a safe and positive environment for all at the club.”