Alex Morgan is once again calling out the nonsensical boys club that exists in the NWSL. Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson is once again being called out for failing to do the right thing.
ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle reported on Thursday that Paulson attempted to dissuade former NWSL coach Paul Riley from applying to become coach of the USWNT in 2019. Riley is a former NWSL coach (with the Thorns and N.C. Courage) who has been accused of horrifying sexual abuse. Carlisle’s reporting stated Paulson talked to N.C. Courage owner Steve Malik, then Riley’s boss, about how it would be “a good idea” for Riley to withdraw from consideration because remaining in the running could bring to light Riley’s past misconduct (and thus embarrass both Paulson and Malik for keeping such an alleged monster employed).
The new reporting shows just how far Paulson and the Thorns went to cover up their handling of Riley. The Thorns fired him for cause in 2015 but never divulged the reasons, which included allegations of sexual harassment and coercion. When the Western New York Flash asked about Riley before hiring him, the Thorns said there were no problems with him as a coach, and the NWSL allowed him to return to the sidelines with the Flash, which is now the N.C. Courage.
Last year, The Athletic detailed the lurid accusations against Riley, prompting the Courage to fire him. The report sent shockwaves through the NWSL and was another instance in a long list of abusers who were employed by the NWSL.
The Thorns long kept the accusations of abuse against Riley secret, perhaps to protect themselves from criticism but as a result putting other women in harm’s way. The new ESPN report shows just how far Paulson and the Thorns went to keep Riley’s past hidden from public view. If true, it shows Paulson has been lying when he’s previously said the Thorns’ only mistake was not making public the reason for Riley’s initial firing in 2015.
Carlisle also reported that USWNT players spoke out against hiring Riley in 2019. It’s likely one of the players against his hiring was Alex Morgan, who played a key role in corroborating and supporting Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly, the two women who made the accusations against Riley while he was at Portland.
Alex Morgan Responds
In response to Carlisle’s excellent reporting, Morgan tweeted that NWSL players deserve better than the boys club of Paulson and Malik protecting themselves ahead of protecting the players.
We(the players of the NWSL, especially players in Portland) deserve so much better than a boys club protecting their own. Also, that statement in response by @ThornsFC is just pathetic. https://t.co/rLU1Z8lWqZ— Alex Morgan (@alexmorgan13) September 2, 2022
The Thorns response Morgan is referring to claims Carlisle’s reporting is based on private information but stopped short of outright denying the report.
— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) September 1, 2022
All of this comes in the wake of an investigation from law firm DLA Piper, which the Portland Thorns hired to scrutinize the internal handling of Riley. The Oregonian has more on the details of that report, which you can read here. Essentially, DLA Piper simultaneously cleared the Thorns of major wrongdoing (no surprise considering who paid for the investigation) while also saying the Thorns’ response “wasn’t enough.”
None of this should be a surprise, sadly. Given the long laundry list of abusers in the NWSL (the 10 non-expansion clubs have all had issues), it’s long been apparent the league has been run by men with little to no interest in protecting the players. One hopes things are changing with the new commissioner and an ongoing investigation (still) led by Sally Yates.
I highly recommend reading all the reporting from Jeff Carlisle on ESPN and Ryan Clark of the Oregonian to full details, as it would be a disservice to just rehash it all here. In the meantime, you can watch Morgan and the USWNT on the pitch in a friendly against Nigeria on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET on FOX.