Alex Morgan, ex-NWSL players Mana Shim, Sinead Farrelly want better policies, transparency from league

Former NWSL players Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly voiced gratitude for the support after The Athletic reported on sexual coercion and inappropriate comments made by now-former NWSL coach Paul Riley over a decade in women's professional soccer. Now they and current Orlando Pride striker Alex Morgan hope the attention will turn into action by the league.

"I'm just so grateful for this opportunity to get these bad people out of the league and really shine a light on this issue because it's so prevalent," Shim said during an interview Tuesday morning on "Today." "It's not just this team, it's not just this coach. It's across the league, it's across the sport and we have to do something about it."

Shim said she wants to see "more justice, I want better policies, I want players to be protected" in the top-level women's league in the United States. But she said she feels like after the past week "we're on the right path."

Riley was fired as North Carolina Courage head coach after The Athletic's report and NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird submitted her resignation the following night, reportedly hours after the board of directors voted to remove her and general counsel Lisa Levine. The league did not hold games over the weekend and will return to the pitch on Wednesday, the NWSL Players Association said on Tuesday.

Shim, Farrelly on sharing their stories

Sinead Farrelly, formerly of Portland Thorns FC seen here in 2015, said she wants more justice after coming forward with allegations against her former coach. (Rich Barnes/Getty Images)
Sinead Farrelly, formerly of Portland Thorns FC seen here in 2015, said she wants more justice after coming forward with allegations against her former coach. (Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

Shim filed a complaint with Portland Thorns officials in 2015 about Riley's behavior, which reportedly included leading the women back to his apartment and pressuring them to dance and kiss each other so the team didn't have to run a suicide mile drill at practice that week.

"He's a predator," Shim said on "Today." "He sexually harassed me. He sexually coerced me. And he took away our careers."

Farrelly, who played for Riley on three teams, told The Athletic she felt "under his control." Shim said on "Today" she felt "from early on there was a possession, not just from Paul but from the team that I was playing for."

"It's bigger than the sport," Farrelly said. "It's about safety and our own lives and our bodies. the players deserve that. We all deserve that."

Riley has denied the allegations and said he never had sex with nor made sexual advances to a player.

Morgan calls for transparency, proactive league

Morgan helped Shim file the complaint in 2015 when there was no clear avenue to do so and provided the proof of Shim's recent emails to the league going unheeded. The NWSL introduced an anti-harassment policy earlier this year she and players pushed. On "Today," the United States women's national team star asked for more transparency and proactive moves from the NWSL.

"First and foremost, I'm here today to support Mana and Sinead and continue to amplify their voices," Morgan said. "And to show the systemic failure from the league and how wrong they did in handling Mana's case and complaint and investigation and where they failed Mana and Sinead and probably many other women.

"I think when I look back I tried to be as good of a friend and teammate as possible to mana in helping her file a complaint when there at the time was no anti-harassment policy in place, there was no league HR, there was no anonymous hotline, there was no way to report. We have now stated to put these things in place by demand of players, not by the league being proactive. Something we ask is for the league to start being proactive, not reactive. We ask for transparency."

Morgan's USWNT teammates, such as Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn, were also vocal on Twitter asking for more from NWSL when it comes to player protection.

NWSL games to resume Wednesday

The NWSL will proceed with its scheduled games on Wednesday after the league postponed games over the weekend to "give everyone some space to reflect."

The NWSL Players Association, which is currently negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the league, announced it on Twitter saying "demands will be forthcoming."

"We have taken the weekend's pause to evaluate. We acknowledge that we will not process the pain of the last several days in one weekend or one week. In the midst of the statements that leagues and clubs are quick to release, we have been listening to ourselves, and to one another.

"Today we stand with Mana, Sinead and Kaiya [McCoullough] as they continue to tell their stories. We have made the decision to proceed with Wednesday night's scheduled competition, but our demands will be forthcoming."

Immediately after The Athletic's report on Thursday, the NWSLPA demanded an independent investigation — they are now many by different agencies — as well as an explanation for how Riley was hired again and that any league staff accused of violating the anti-harassment policy be suspended immediately.

The league has had a season full of coaching scandals, including Kaiya McCullough coming forward with allegations of verbal and emotional abuse by the Washington Spirit's Richie Burke. It was only days before The Athletic's report that the league announced Burke's firing after an investigation of which they released no details.