The NWSL elected to not play its scheduled matches this weekend following player protests over the league’s past inaction on coach Paul Riley after player complaints (revealed in an Athletic article from Meg Linehan and Katie Strang), and that led to plenty of discussion about what’s next for the league, especially considering the significant evidence that commissioner Lisa Baird had previously been informed of many of the accusations (including of sexual coercion) against Riley before they hit the media. As we wrote earlier Friday, “It’s far from clear that this league can get back on track in any shape or form, especially with Baird still in charge.” Well, as per a tweet from Linehan Friday evening, Baird (who took that role in early 2020, as seen above) is no longer in charge, with NWSL general counsel Lisa Levine also let go:
— Meg Linehan (@itsmeglinehan) October 1, 2021
Update: Here’s the statement the league out out later Friday.
— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) October 2, 2021
As noted in our earlier article, Riley’s case is far from the only recent one suggesting major problems with the league. In the last three months alone, two coaches have been fired around claims of verbal abuse (with teams in both cases initially looking to downplay that), and a third has been fired for unspecified reasons. A general manager was also fired for violating the league’s anti-harassment policy. And the comments we saw from NWSL players after the Riley story broke were far beyond what we normally see from athletes in a league. Here are some of those:
We Deserve Better (Part II) pic.twitter.com/c1MIAnrOde
— Meghan Klingenberg (@meghankling) September 30, 2021
Men, protecting men, who are abusing women. I’ll say it again, men, protecting men, who are ABUSING WOMEN. Burn it all down. Let all their heads roll. https://t.co/iHg3JlVVe0
— Megan Rapinoe (@mPinoe) September 30, 2021
Protect the players. Protect women. It’s everyone’s responsibility to hold the standards and enforce accountability. Why are we still dealing with these mostly male transgressions? This is unacceptable. @NWSL
— Christine Sinclair (@sincy12) September 30, 2021
The initial behaviour, the actual abuse & intended harm is bad enough. It’s disgusting.
For those who sat back, covered it up.. protected the abuser & not those abused.. you are evil.
My heart hurts for all those abused. Your bravery is for all those to see.
it’s stops now.
— Jessica Fishlock MBE (@JessFishlock) September 30, 2021
Moving on from Baird and Levine seems highly logical at this point. It’s unclear that this league could have ever resumed play under Baird, who issued a “shocked and disgusted” statement Thursday despite a pile of evidence that she had been previously told about Riley’s actions. And the league’s response to the numerous and detailed allegations against Riley submitted to them was extremely minimal, so it makes some sense to move on from a key legal figure like Levine as well. But for actual substantive change here, more may be needed than just a change in the figures at the top. The NWSL’s players have made it quite clear that the league and its teams’ minimal past responses to serious allegations are no longer enough. We’ll see if new leadership can actually make the league a safe place for players.