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Women’s soccer league calls off weekend games amid allegations of abuse

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The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) called off its games slated for the weekend amid the firings of league coaches and allegations of verbal, emotional and sexual abuse. 

In a statement released Friday morning, NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said that given the gravity of the events that transpired this week, “business as usual” wasn’t the league’s concern at the moment. 

“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,” Baird said in the statement. 

“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,” she continued. 

Allegations surfaced Thursday that North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley sexually coerced players during his career. 

The allegations were detailed in a report from The Athletic that accused Riley of coercing a player to have sex with him, asking two players to kiss in front of him so that the team did not have to do a rigorous conditioning workout and sending players unsolicited sexual messages. These allegations, according to The Athletic, spanned over years and multiple teams since 2010. 

Riley has denied the allegations, according to the news source. 

“I have never had sex with, or made sexual advances towards these players,” he told The Athletic. 

On Thursday, Baird said that she was “shocked and disgusted” by the report about Riley and announced his termination. 

“The league, in concert with the North Carolina Courage, has reacted swiftly to these new allegations, and former Head Coach Paul Riley has been terminated. Concurrently, we are reporting these new allegations to the US Center of SafeSport for investigation,” she wrote in a statement posted to Twitter by the league. 

On Tuesday, the Washington Spirit’s coach, Richie Berk, was fired following an investigation stemming from violations of the NWSL anti-harassment policy. 

“Based on the investigation’s findings and the NWSL’s determination that the Washington Spirit head coach cannot work with any NWSL players, the Washington Spirit’s head coach has been terminated for cause,” the league said in a statement Tuesday. 

The league first investigated Berk after The Washington Post reported in August that he was verbally and emotionally abusing Spirit players. 

In her statement Friday, Baird said that the league and its players have “a great deal of healing to do.” 

“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” Baird said. 

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