For years the world of women’s soccer has been rampant with sexual and verbul abuse. Harassment of any kind is unacceptable in the workplace, in sports and in our society as a whole—but especially when it is directed at women by powerful men.
Our latest example is the recent scandal involving Paul Riley and the Portland Thorns. The first public sign of this abuse came from a complaint by multiple Portland Thorns players after the 2014 season. In an anonymous survey reported by Kevin Draper of the New York Times, one player stated, “We got used to being called dumb, stupid, slow, idiotic, retarded.” In that same survey, another player commented, “Being subject to verbal abuse and sexism shouldn’t exist in this league by any coach.”
These kinds of remarks are beyond unacceptable. Paul Riley needs to be terminated. Yet his abusive behavior has been known for a long time and he still has not been publicly reprimanded—let alone fired.
Henry Bushnell of Yahoo! Sports reported that “Monday’s report, commissioned by U.S. Soccer and produced by former federal prosecutor Sally Yates, revealed that Thorns owner Merritt Paulson and general manager Gavin Wilkinson were aware of allegations against Riley, and nonetheless contributed to his hiring by other NWSL clubs.” Questions like these have been dogging the Thorns’ leadership for years.
Despite this, it is worth mentioning that as of last week, Merritt Paulson has decided to step down from his position in the women’s sports industry. “As you know, I removed myself from Thorns decision-making, yet, in order for the organization to move forward and unite, I feel that another step is necessary,” he said in a statement.
Unfortunately, this does not solve the problem, as the new CEO is not guaranteed to respond any better to this scandal or others that may follow. Whoever the new CEO may be, players and the fans need to know that abuse like this will be answered with swift action. Paulson should have fired Riley for his behavior towards the women he coaches when these accounts first came to his attention. His failure amplified this scandal and contributes to a dynamic of abuse that keeps repeating itself.
This type of behavior is way too common in the world of women’s sports, as can be seen in a long history of scandals. According to reporting by Kevin Draper of the New York Times, “A yearlong investigation found U.S. Soccer executives, N.W.S.L. owners and coaches at all levels of American soccer had turned a blind eye toward years of reports of abuse from players. One coach called in a player to review a game film and showed her pornography instead. Another was notorious at the highest levels of women’s soccer for alternately berating his players and then quizzing them about their sex lives.”
These are but a few examples of the abuse male coaches enact on female players in the world of women’s soccer. There need to be more background checks in the hiring of coaches, and the performance of coaches afterward needs to be monitored better. Perhaps there would be less corruption and abuse if there was more transparency and the public had open knowledge about potential future coaches and their performance as rated by peers.
Thorns support groups known collectively under the banner 107IST wrote on Twitter last Tuesday, “While we were prepared for the worst, nothing prepared us for what was contained in the USSF/Sally Yates report. It’s time to build a bonfire.” It is clear that both fans and players are upset.
Those in powerful positions within these organizations need to listen to the players when they report abuses of any kind. If someone comes to you and tells you they are being abused in any way by someone you hired, common sense would dictate that you at least investigate the situation.
Despite all that has happened to tarnish the team and women’s sports as a whole, more people speaking up and challenging the current system will help end this cycle of abuse and ensure that players and fans alike can enjoy their passion for the game they love. In the meantime, as the fans said, it’s time to build a bonfire.