The NWSL is in the news, but for all the wrong reasons

Natalie Gordon and Sophia Hosford

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) has finally caught the attention of national news outlets. But it’s not for the action taking place on the field, instead it’s allegations of sexual coercion, verbal abuse, and lack of transparency. 

The NWSL is a young league that experiences ups and downs. It’s struggled to secure television coverage and its players have fought for livable salaries that many have yet to attain. 

On Friday, September 28, all NWSL games were postponed because of sexual assault allegations made against former North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley, as well as the firing of former Washington Spirit head coach Richie Burke. Former players accused Riley of forcing them to engage in sexual acts. Riley has denied these accusations. Previously, Riley was let go of his job with the Portland Thorns due to similar accusations. Following the negative attention on the league, commissioner Lisa Baird resigned.  

Just a few hundred miles north, here in Washington DC, another disaster had unfolded for the Washington Spirit as Head Coach Richie Burke was accused of verbal abuse by players. 

Burke coached the Spirit for two years until an investigation by the NWSL resulted in his firing. Originally, the Spirit had announced that Burke was stepping down due to “health concerns” and declined to comment about it to the Washington Post. Burke had formerly coached youth soccer at National Cathedral School and FC Virginia. 

Reports of Burke’s verbal abuse triggered signs displayed at recent Spirit games reading “Sell the team, Steve,” in reference to majority owner Steve Baldwin. At the Spirit’s most recent match on Halloween, fans erupted, demanding Baldwin sell. 

Spirit players have also asked Baldwin to sell. In an open letter, players requested that he sell to minority owner Michele Kang. “The person we trust is Michele… you have always said you had intended to hand the team over to female leadership. That time is now,” they wrote. Baldwin recently stepped down as CEO and Managing Partner. There have been reports that Baldwin recently announced a plan to sell the team but he has not said he will sell to Michele Kang.

It is disappointing that what it took for the national news to cover the NWSL was allegations of assault.

Sadly, the first time many people heard of the NWSL was as a haven for alleged abusers such as Riley and Burke, not as home of some of the greatest soccer players in the world.

We hope that the level of attention the league is currently receiving will extend to coverage of the caliber of players and teams in the NWSL.