Beyond the Scoreboard: Women Athletes Still Lack Justice

Players across the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) stopped to voice their concerns and call for change over a continued problem of sexual harassment within the league that has no place to exist.


Teams across the NWSL stopped play and locked arms at the sixth minute of their Oct. 6 matches. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Earlier this month, women’s soccer players across the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) voiced their concerns and frustrations over the continuous workplace harassment that plagues the league. This comes after a recent article published in The Athletic detailing the sexual harassment described by former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim against the now-former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley. 

The reports detailed Riley’s behavior, indicating instances of inappropriate comments about players’ weight, sexual orientation and sexual coercion. More than a dozen other players added their names to the complaint, including women across the number of teams Riley has coached since 2010.

Shim’s complaint was presented to the Portland Thorns front office, where Shim and Riley both were dismissed by NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird. In 2021, the NWSL revised its policies on harassment to take a firmer stance against it. The women once again urged the organization to reconsider but were denied on the basis that their original complaint in 2015 was “investigated to conclusion.”

After the allegations went public in The Athletic, a swift firing of Riley occurred, with Baird resigning as well. At this time, the NWSL Players Union released a list of demands to be met by management going forward. One such request involves every coach, general manager and representative submitting to an investigation on abusive conduct. 

Similarly, in the Oct. 6 games, teams decided to stop play and link arms at centerfield in solidarity with Farrelly, Shim and others. A player statement presented during the broadcast of the Gotham FC and Washington Spirit game read the following: 

“Teams will stop play in each of tonight’s games at the sixth minute. Players are joining together in solidarity for one minute to recognize the six years it took for Mana Shim, Sinead Farrelly and all those who fought far too long to be heard. We ask that fans join us in this reckoning and in our pursuit of a league that deserves the players in it.”

It is terrifying how long executives and higher-ups swept such allegations under the rug. A report by Stop Street Harassment back in 2018 found that 81% of women have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lifetime. For women, it has become an expectation. 

In turn, young girls playing sports or striving for a higher position will be threatened by this on a daily basis until the behavior is addressed. Shim said in a TV interview with NBC: “I want more justice. I want better policies. I want players to be protected.” 

In my mind, this is a simple request, yet even in 2021 it fails to be met. 

Riley has denied the allegations and the NWSL officially announced that they will be reopening the investigation. Both FIFA and US Soccer have begun investigations into the allegations, and it is rare for these organizations to become involved with NWSL affairs. It is unknown if any real change will occur following the investigations, but women will continue to fight the system everyday.