Players protested the NWSL and honored survivors during their first games back since bombshell sex abuse allegations rocked the league

Players protested the NWSL and honored survivors during their first games back since bombshell sex abuse allegations rocked the league

  • The NWSL has been rocked by allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of former coach Paul Riley.
  • On Wednesday, teams played the league’s first games since the scandal broke late last week.
  • Players from all three games paused play at the sixth minute to protest the NWSL and honor survivors.

For six years, leadership across the National Women’s Soccer League is accused of failing to speak up and went on with “business as usual” after players came forward with allegations of sexual abuse against a coach.

No more.

In the first NWSL games since accusations against two-time Coach of the Year Paul Riley were published in a bombshell report from The Athletic’s Meg Linehan, players from six different teams joined together to protest the league and honor the former North Carolina Courage head coach’s survivors. The players’ association issued a statement ahead of Wednesday night’s slate of games captioned, “This is not business as usual. #NoMoreSilence.”


During all three of Wednesday night’s contests, players from opposing sides stopped play ahead of the six-minute mark and walked towards the center circle, where other teammates, opponents, and the games’ referees joined them from the sidelines. The athletes then linked arms in the middle of the field for a full minute as fans applauded and raised signs of support for the players.

First, players from NJ/NY Gotham and the Washington Spirit — a franchise in the throes of its own scandal surrounding a culture of abuse — took the field and, six minutes later, put their game on hold:

Just shy of half an hour later, the Courage and Racing Louisville FC followed suit at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park:

The Houston Dash and Portland Thorns, where Riley was employed when players first reported his inappropriate conduct, rounded out the night in Portland. The Rose City Riveters, the Thorns’ famed supporters group, filled Providence Park with cheers and whistles of support as players showed solidarity with those impacted by abuse.

Many fans held signs that read “protect the players,” “no more silence,” and — perhaps most damningly — “only sorry you got caught.”


Linehan’s investigation included on-the-record accounts from two of Riley’s former players — Sinead Farrelly and Meleana “Mana” Shim — who alleged that the 57-year-old leveraged his position of authority in an attempt to lure players into his bed, coerce them into sex, and force them to kiss one another for his pleasure.

The Courage fired Riley from his head coaching position the day after Linehan published her article. Soon after, the US Soccer Federation revoked his coaching license in response to the “repulsive, unacceptable” behavior. NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird resigned, and general counsel Lisa Levine was fired before the weekend’s end, as Linehan’s report alleged that Baird, Levine, and other league representatives failed to act upon learning of Farrelly’s and Shim’s accusations against Riley.

Portland Thorns fans hold "Protect the Players" signs at a game against the Houston Dash.

Portland Thorns fans hold “Protect the Players” signs at a game against the Houston Dash.

AP Photo/Steve Dipaola

What comes next in the fight for accountability in the NWSL — which has seen numerous abuse revelations across multiple franchises in recent months — remains to be seen. But players are undoubtedly committed to speaking out against injustice within the league’s ranks, as Wednesday night’s players’ association release made abundantly clear:

“Silence is deafening.”

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