Content warning: This article contains themes of sexual and interpersonal violence.
Soccer is the best sport in the world.
There, I said it. You know my biases now. I’ve grown up with soccer – most of, if not all of my earliest memories involve the sport, whether watching England play on the television with my dad or going out to soccer practice at the local middle school.
The US Women’s National Team (USWNT) is something to be genuinely proud of as an American – it’s something we are the best in the world at, in a sport that really hasn’t entered the mainstream until the past few decades.
Women’s soccer sees similar participation to men’s at the high school level, and even greater at Division I colleges, with 333 schools having women’s programs compared to 205 men’s. With the USWNT pushing for its third consecutive Women’s World Cup trophy in Australia and New Zealand in 2023, there has never been a better time for women’s soccer in American history.
Unless you’re talking about the National Women’s Soccer League, or NWSL.
Three weeks ago, The Athletic reported allegations from former players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, both of the Portland Thorns, that head coach Paul Riley had sexually coerced them. Multiple times in Farrelly’s case.
Riley was fired from the Thorns at the end of the 2015 season, following the report of those allegations to Thorns management – but that was as far as the allegations ever went at the time.
In addition, the players also alleged that Riley, as well as Thorns general manager Gavin Wilkinson, made repeated inappropriate comments about the womens’ sexuality.
In 2017, Riley was hired by the North Carolina Courage, where he remained as head coach until his firing on Sept. 30, hours after The Athletic published its report. Wilkinson remains in his post with the Thorns.
Following a statement from NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird stating that she was “shocked and disgusted” to read about the allegations, Alex Morgan, a star player for the USWNT as well as the Thorns during the period of the alleged incidents, provided evidence on Twitter that the league was informed of the allegations, both in 2015 and earlier in 2021, and chose to take no action.
The next day, Commissioner Baird resigned.
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FIFA, the sport’s international governing body, announced an investigation into the allegations. U.S. Soccer also launched its own investigation, spearheaded by former United States Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.
Professional women’s sports are ludicrously underfunded in our society. The minimum salary for an NWSL player is just $22,000, with the maximum being $52,500 per season. Both fall well short of the Major League Soccer (MLS) minimum of $81,375, let alone the MLS average of just under $400,000.
We have a duty to support women’s soccer in this country – but we can’t do it at the expense of allowing abusers to continue to perpetrate horrific acts against women.
The NWSL turned a blind eye, as did Women’s Professional Soccer before it, and the Women’s United Soccer Association before that – all for the sake of keeping professional women’s soccer in this country.
We don’t have to court the NWSL to bring a pro women’s team to Cincinnati. Let’s go a different route.
Cincinnati has everything it needs to host a professional women’s team. We have a beautiful new stadium, incredible training facilities (both designed with a future women’s team in mind, per the Enquirer, and a hometown hero in Rose Lavelle, one of the top players on the USWNT.
MLS, the men’s professional soccer league, is on the verge of accepting its 30th team. With the debut of teams in Louisville and Kansas City this season, the NWSL now has 10.
We have the infrastructure in place to create a better league, and one without the factors of desperation and history that led leaders within the NWSL to ignore abuses for years.
We have an increasing number of owners that are willing to invest in their cities, building incredible stadiums both in MLS and in the United Soccer League, the second division of American men’s pro soccer. America has the world’s largest pool of female managers, staff, referees, and owners.
Let’s do better.
Protect the players.