The US Soccer Federation is calling on a former federal prosecutor to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct and abusive behavior roiling the top US professional women’s soccer league.
“US Soccer has retained Sally Q. Yates of King & Spalding LLP to lead an independent investigation into allegations of abusive behavior and sexual misconduct in women’s professional soccer,” the federation said in a statement on Sunday.
The federation described Yates, a former US prosecutor and deputy attorney general as someone with “extensive experience conducting complex and highly sensitive investigations” who specializes in internal and independent investigations for public and private organizations.
The announcement comes two days after Lisa Baird, under fire for her handling of sexual misconduct allegations against a head coach, resigned as commissioner of the NWSL, the top US professional women’s league.
Her departure came hours after she said the league was calling off weekend matches around the United States.
On Thursday, the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage fired head coach Paul Riley for what the team called “very serious allegations of misconduct.”
Riley’s dismissal came after The Athletic website detailed wide-ranging sexual misconduct by the 58-year-old Englishman spanning multiple teams and leagues since 2010.
Riley was the second NWSL coach to be dismissed this week after the league terminated Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke’s contract following an investigation into allegations of verbal and emotional abuse.
US internationals Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe were among the players who have criticized the league’s handling of the Riley allegations.
“Bottom line: Protect your players. Do the right thing NWSL,” Morgan tweeted.
“Men, protecting men, who are abusing women. I’ll say it again, men, protecting men, who are ABUSING WOMEN,” Rapinoe tweeted. “Burn it all down. Let all their heads roll.”
US Soccer said Yates’s investigation wold begin immediately “and she will be given full autonomy, access and the necessary resources to follow the facts and evidence wherever they may lead.”
According to The Athletic, players Sinead Farrelly and Meleana “Mana” Shim had made allegations of inappropriate behaviour against Riley.
Farrelly, who played for Riley at three different teams in different leagues, accused him of “sexual coercion” while he was her coach at the Philadelphia Independence.
She said she had been coerced into having sex with Riley after going to his hotel room following a defeat in the Women’s Professional Soccer League final in 2011. Riley allegedly told her “we’re taking this to our graves.”
In another incident during his reign at the Portland Thorns, Farrelly and Shim said Riley had forced them to kiss each other while at his apartment.
“This guy has a pattern,” Shim told The Athletic.
Morgan, who played under Riley at the same time, confirmed the players’ allegations and said she had tried to help them file a report with the league.
“The league was informed of these allegations multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate,” Morgan said.
In a statement to The Athletic, Riley denied wrongdoing, describing the allegations as “completely untrue.”
“I have never had sex with, or made sexual advances towards these players,” he said.
The league’s players’ union NWSLPA said on Twitter that “systemic abuse” was “plaguing the NWSL.”