UPDATED with latest: After 24 hours of turmoil involving detailed allegations of sexual coercion and misconduct against a former coach, National Women’s Soccer League commissioner Lisa Baird has stepped down.
An official statement posted to the league’s Twitter account late Friday read, “The National Women’s Soccer League has received and accepted Lisa Baird’s resignation as its commissioner.”
An article published Thursday by The Athletic detailed allegations against North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley, who was fired.
Five games, over the course of today and the weekend were taken off the docket as the organization sought to get its hands around the scandal.
PREVIOUSLY: The National Women’s Soccer League, confronting the biggest crisis since its founding in 2012, has scrapped all of its games this weekend.
Two games today and three more on Saturday have been taken off the docket. The league has not said whether the games will be made up, with commissioner Lisa Baird saying the decision was made in coordination with the players’ union. ViacomCBS has rights to NWSL games, airing them on CBS Sports Network and streaming some on Paramount+. Others stream on Twitch.
An article published Thursday by digital outlet The Athletic detailed allegations of sexual coercion and misconduct against a former coach. Paul Riley was fired by the North Carolina Courage after allegations spanning more than a decade described sexual coercion and inappropriate comments about players’ weight and sexual orientation. Of a dozen players who spoke to The Athletic, two players came forward on the record to say Riley had forced them to have sex with him. Even after allegations first surfaced, according to The Athletic, the coach was able to stay in the league, moving to the Courage from multiple prior coaching positions.
U.S. Women’s National Team captain Alex Morgan charged on Twitter that Baird and the league had been told about Riley’s misconduct but failed to act. She provided emails from a player to Baird to back up her assertions. “The league was informed of these allegations multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate the allegations,” she tweeted. “The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse.”
Megan Rapinoe, another high-profile star from the U.S. team, replied to Morgan, writing, “Never once during this whole time was the right person protected.”
The revelations were stunning and sobering enough, but the additional layer that will require significant processing is the notion that league and team officials were either complicit or insufficiently inclined to keep players safe.
In a statement announcing the games being yanked from the schedule (which comes at a precipitous moment, with the season due to end by late-October), Baird sought to own her role. “This week, and much of this season, has been incredibly traumatic for our players and staff, and I take full responsibility for the role I have played,” she said. “I am so sorry for the pain so many are feeling,” Baird said in a statement. “Recognizing that trauma, we have decided not to take the field this weekend to give everyone some space to reflect.
“Business as usual isn’t our concern right now. Our entire league has a great deal of healing to do, and our players deserve so much better. We have made this decision in collaboration with our players association and this pause will be the first step as we collectively work to transform the culture of this league, something that is long overdue.”
The NWSL Players Association described Thursday, when the revelations surfaced, as “a profoundly painful day for us, as players.” For many players, the union said in a statement, “the pain has stretched across years. The outpouring of support we have felt has been a beacon of light on a dark day.
“Last night, we made the difficult decision to ask NWSL to postpone this weekend’s games to give players space to process this pain. Commissioner Baird and the Board of Governors worked overnight to grant that request.”
With the NWSL on the upswing, an LA expansion franchise, dubbed “Angel City” last year announced plans to join the league in 2022. Investors in the club include Natalie Portman, Uzo Aduba, Jessica Chastain, America Ferrera, Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria and Lilly Singh from the entertainment sector. Other backers include former U.S. Women’s National Team players Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and Julie Foudy; former Netflix TV chief Cindy Holland; tech entrepreneur and filmmaker Casey Neistat; media executive David Nathanson; and Bad Robot president and COO Brian Weinstein.
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