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Content warning: This story contains depictions of sexual misconduct and coercion.
Nearly one week after they fired coach Paul Riley following sexual harassment allegations levied against him, the North Carolina Courage owner is speaking out and apologizing for his “failure.”
Courage owner Steve Malik published an open letter on Wednesday apologizing for not creating “an environment where players feel safe and comfortable coming forward” and insisted that neither he nor the club knew of the allegations until they were made public last week.
“When we bought the Western NY Flash in 2017, we conducted due diligence to continue with Mr. Riley and the coaching staff,” Malik wrote. “We were made aware of an investigation into Mr. Riley’s behavior in 2015 and were subsequently assured that he was in good standing. During his employment with the Courage, we had no knowledge of allegations of sexual harassment or coercion. When we learned of the horrific allegations in last week’s reporting, we took those seriously and immediately terminated Mr. Riley.”
Courage coach fired after sexual harassment allegations
The Courage fired Riley last week after a report from The Athletic detailed sexual harassment and coercion allegations made against him dating back to at least 2010.
Riley allegedly made a player sit on his lap during a car ride and grabbed her hips, and later coerced that player into having sex with him. He also allegedly forced two players to kiss to prevent their team from running extra laps. Riley also allegedly made inappropriate remarks about players’ weight and sexual orientation, among other things.
Riley, who had led the Courage since 2017, was fired hours after the report dropped. The NWSL later canceled all games the following weekend, FIFA, the league and U.S. Soccer all launched investigations and commissioner Lisa Baird eventually resigned from her post. The Portland Thorns placed general manager and president Gavin Wilkinson on administrative leave on Wednesday night, too.
Before Baird stepped down, however, she issued a statement about the “new allegations” and pledging an investigation. That didn’t go over well with several players, including Alex Morgan — who posted multiple emails from players to Baird and the NWSL HR account about complaints against Riley dated earlier this year.
Though Baird apparently was aware of issues with Riley before last week, Malik insists that he and the organization were not.
Malik ended his letter praising two Courage players, Sinead Farrelly and Meleana "Mana" Shim, who spoke on the record about Riley’s behavior.
“To Mana Shim, Sinead Farrelly and all players who have come forward in sharing your stories, you have shown us what true courage is,” Malik wrote. “Your actions have sparked this vital need for positive, systemic change, and I commend you for your strength in doing so. Such abuse has no place in our society or in our sport, and it will never be tolerated by the North Carolina Courage organization. Our primary responsibility, and our top priority, is the safety, security, and respectful treatment of our players, without exception. Our commitment to this promise is unconditional.
“Professional women’s soccer is profoundly influential among girls and young women everywhere. It is incumbent on us to set a standard of conduct that earns their trust. Soccer demands and deserves a culture of mutual respect, free of sexual harassment, intimidation, and predatory coercion of any kind.”