The National Women’s Soccer League Players Association has launched an investigation into North Carolina Coach Paul Riley to find out what happened after two former players accused him of sexual coercion.
Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, two former athletes who have played under Coach Paul Riley, came out to The Athletic, alleging an inappropriate sexual relationship. A dozen other unnamed players also came forward, with the Players Association supporting them, to claim that Paul Riley used his power over them intimidate and sexually coerce them.
“We, the players of the NWSL, stand with Sinead Farrelly, Mana Shim, Kaiya McCullough, and each of the players who have brought their stories into the light — both known and unknown,” the Association said in their official statement. “Words cannot adequately capture our anger, pain, sadness, and disappointment.”
“To the players who suffer in silence, know that the Players Association holds a safe space for you,” the statement continued. “We stand ready to confidentially offer you resources and support. You are not alone.”
Sinead Farrelly, a midfielder, played for Riley over multiple teams over multiple leagues from 2010-2015. She said his presence has haunted and followed her all throughout her career, and despite pressing complaints, the league only moved him to a different team.
After a 2011 loss in the finals, Farrelly told The Athletic that the passenger van home was very crowded, and Riley told her that she would have to sit on his lap.
“I felt claimed,” Sinead Farrelly said. “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.”
Riley allegedly grabbed her hips, and Sinead remembers looking around thinking: “Is anyone else seeing this?”
That same night, she said Riley coerced her into having sex with him in his hotel room and staying the night. She revealed that the dynamic continued until late 2012, when in the 2013 season she left to play for Kansas City. Later that year, Riley traded for her, and she was forced to play for the Portland Thorns under his command once again.
She alleged that an incident where she collapsed on field in a July 2014 game was due to emotional duress.
“He has the authority,” an anonymous player told The Athletic. “People don’t really push him on it, everyone accepts that just how he is. You’re trying to survive in his hierarchy.”
In 2015, Farrelly got involved with fellow-Thorns player Mana Shim as well, who alleged a particularly damning night when he forced her to kiss Sinead Farrelly in his hotel room so that they would not have to run suicide drills that week.
Unable to provide any “corroborative evidence” the Thorns took Shim’s complaint and later fired Paul Riley, but he went on to continue coaching in the league for another team.
Responding to the allegations, Paul Riley denied what happened, saying, “I have never had sex with, or made sexual advances towards these players.”
“There’s a chance I’ve said something along the way that offended someone,” he said, “[but] I do not belittle my players, comment on their weight, or discuss their personal relationships.”
Paul Riley is now a coach for the North Carolina Courage.
“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,” the Courage said in an official statement. “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.”
According to the National Women’s Soccer League, the investigation into Paul Riley is ongoing.