National Women's Soccer League commissioner resigns, games called off amid abuse allegations

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) postponed all of its upcoming weekend matches and its commissioner resigned Friday, following allegations of sexual misconduct against a former coach.

North Carolina Courage Coach Paul Riley was fired Thursday after a report in The Athletic detailed allegations made by players on teams that Riley has coached since 2010.

The news also comes after the players’ union on Thursday called for an end to “systemic abuse plaguing the NWSL.”

NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird, who earlier Friday apologized to players and staff, had submitted her resignation by Friday night, the league said.

“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. I am so sorry for the pain so many are feeling,” Baird said in a statement before the league announced that it had accepted her resignation. “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.”

Two matches had been scheduled for Friday and three more on Saturday.

The Washington Spirit were set to play at North Carolina on Friday, along with NJ/NY Gotham at Racing Louisville FC. Also postponed from Saturday’s card were Orlando Pride at Chicago Red Stars; Houston Dash at Kansas City; and OL Reign at Portland Thorns FC.

Before Baird’s departure, the commissioner had said the pause would serve as a “first step” in transforming the league’s culture.

“Our entire league has a great deal of healing to do, and our players deserve so much better,” Baird added. “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.”

In The Athletic report, veteran midfielder Sinead Farrelly said she had been coerced into having sex with her coach, Riley, on multiple occasions.

Farrelly and midfielder Mana Shim both told the online sports publication that, after a night of drinking in 2015, Riley brought them back to his apartment and pressured them to kiss each other as he watched.

Riley responded in writing to The Athletic and denied having sexual relations with players.

“I have never had sex with, or made sexual advances towards these players,” he wrote. Riley did not immediately respond to an NBC News request for comment.

Some of the game’s most iconic players, such as U.S. stars Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, lashed out at league leadership for not doing more to prevent the alleged abuse.

“The league was informed of these allegations multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate the allegations,” Morgan said in a statement on Thursday. “The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse.”

Rapinoe accused the club on Thursday of obscuring what might have been a darker reason for his release: “Men protecting men, who are abusing Women.”