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NWSL Commissioner Resigns After Paul Riley, Coaching Scandals

  • NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird has resigned as she faces mounting criticism for not taking complaints of abuse from coaches seriously enough.
  • Two coaches were fired in the last week.
NWSL/Design: Alex Brooks

A series of scandals reverberating through the National Women’s Soccer League has ousted multiple coaches and league commissioner Lisa Baird.

The league announced on Friday that Baird had resigned and that five games had been canceled. 

Baird faced mounting criticism for pushing aside complaints of sexual coercion and other abuses from coaches.

  • North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley was fired on Thursday following a report from The Athletic that he had coerced players into having sex with him among other abuses. His coaching license has been suspended by the U.S. Soccer Federation.
  • On Tuesday, the league announced that Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke had been removed and prohibited from working in the NWSL following a harassment investigation. Spirit representatives are currently barred from participating in league governance for failing to handle the situation.
  • Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly and O.L. Reign coach Farid Benstiti were fired during the summer over reports of a toxic work environment (Holly) and inappropriate comments (Benstiti).

The scandals come with NSWL on the rise. Viewership nearly tripled in 2020, with the first and last Challenge Cup matches drawing 572,000 and 653,000 viewers respectively on CBS. 

The NWSL signed three-year media deals in March 2020 with CBS for a reported $4.5 million, and with Amazon-owned Twitch.

Valuations of NWSL and MLS teams, often purchased in tandem, have been increasing. The Orlando Pride and Orlando City SC were bought for up to $450 million in July, and the Houston Dash and Dynamo changed hands in June for a reported $400 million.