NWSL cancels matches after 'incredibly traumatic' week amid scrutiny over how league handled misconduct claims

NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird, who has taken the brunt of the scrutiny from some of soccer’s top superstars, called the week “incredibly traumatic.”

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NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird during a game between Portland Thorns FC and North Carolina Courage at Zions Bank Stadium on July 17, 2020, in Herriman, Utah.

NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird during a game between Portland Thorns FC and North Carolina Courage at Zions Bank Stadium on July 17, 2020, in Herriman, Utah. (Photo by Bryan Byerly/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

“This week, and much of this season, has been incredibly traumatic for our players and staff, and I take full responsibility for the role I have played. I am so sorry for the pain so many are feeling. Recognizing that trauma, we have decided not to take the field this weekend to give everyone some space to reflect. Business as usual isn’t our concern right now,” Bair said in a statement. 

“Our entire league has a great deal of healing to do, and our players deserve so much better. We have made this decision in collaboration with our players association and this pause will be the first step as we collectively work to transform the culture of this league, something that is long overdue.”

There were five matches scheduled between Friday and Saturday as the Portland Thorns and OL Reign are in a heated race for first place.

Paul Riley was accused by former players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim of sexual misconduct, which included allegations of sexual coercion. The players made the claims to The Athletic. Riley denied the allegations and was later fired by the North Carolina Courage.

Baird said in a statement Thursday she was “shocked and disgusted” by the allegations against the former Courage coach.

The Courage have fired Paul Riley effective immediately after allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct. 

The Courage have fired Paul Riley effective immediately after allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct.  (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker, File)

NWSL ES UNDER SCRUTINY FROM TOP STARS AS COACH IS FIRED OVER SEXUAL MISCONDUCT ALLEGATIONS

The NWSL was harshly criticized over the recent report. The NWSL Players Association demanded the league take action, including launching an independent investigation, suspending anyone in violation of the league’s anti-harassment policy regardless of when the complaint was made and disclosing how Riley was still hired within the league despite allegations.

Alex MorganMegan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Foudy were just some of the voices who spoke out against the NWSL.

“The league was informed of these allegations multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate the allegations. The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse,” Morgan tweeted.

She also shared emails from Farrelly to Baird alleging “extremely inappropriate conduct” against Riley.

Rapinoe quote-tweeted Morgan.

Sinead Farrelly of Portland Thorns FC controls the ball against the Western New York Flash during the first half at Sahlen's Stadium on July 29, 2015, in Rochester, New York. The Portland Thorns FC defeated the Western New York Flash 2-0.

Sinead Farrelly of Portland Thorns FC controls the ball against the Western New York Flash during the first half at Sahlen’s Stadium on July 29, 2015, in Rochester, New York. The Portland Thorns FC defeated the Western New York Flash 2-0. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

“Never once during this whole time was the right person protected. Not Mana, not Sinead, not us not the players not the little girls who will become us not the big girls who already are us not any of US. This statement is beyond disrespectful,” she wrote.

Rapinoe added: “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.”

Orlando Pride forward Sydney Leroux (2), right, and Houston Dash midfielder Mana Shim (12) fight for the ball during the soccer match between the Orlando Pride and the Houston Dash on June 27, 2018 at Orlando City Stadium in Orlando, Florida.

Orlando Pride forward Sydney Leroux (2), right, and Houston Dash midfielder Mana Shim (12) fight for the ball during the soccer match between the Orlando Pride and the Houston Dash on June 27, 2018 at Orlando City Stadium in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Sauerbrunn issued a lengthy statement.

“To be where we are today is unacceptable,” she said. “The league and every club have to do better. At a minimum, the league and clubs should heed the NWSLPA’s calls from further investigations and policy updates, and at best it needs to audit, overhaul and publicly discuss its plans to enforce player safety guidelines at both the league and club level.”

It’s unclear whether the matches will be made up.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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