NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird resigns amid scandal

National Women’s Soccer League Commissioner Lisa Baird resigned after some 19 months on the job amid allegations that a former coach engaged in sexual harassment and misconduct.

Baird’s resignation was announced by the league late Friday, a day after The Athletic published the accounts of two former players who claimed misconduct, including sexual coercion, by North Carolina coach Paul Riley.

Riley was fired by the Courage on Thursday and the allegations touched off a wave of condemnation by players that forced this ’s games to be called off.

Additionally, FIFA on Friday opened an investigation into the case. It is rare that soccer’s international governing body gets involved in a controversy involving a member association. U.S. Soccer also announced an independent investigation on Friday.

U.S. Soccer was instrumental in founding the NWSL in 2013 and helped support the league until last year, when it became independent. The federation continues its financial support of the league

National Women’s Soccer League Commissioner Lisa Baird is out after some 19 months on the job amid allegations that a former coach engaged in sexual harassment and misconduct toward players, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. (Associated Press)

“Player safety and respect is the paramount responsibility of every person involved in this game. That is true across every age, competition and ability level,” U.S. Soccer President Cindy Cone said in a statement. “We owe it to each athlete, each fan and the entire soccer community to take every meaningful action in our power to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.”

U.S. Soccer suspended Riley’s coaching license Thursday after The Athletic published claims of abuse made by former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim.

FIFA told The Associated Press it was “deeply concerned” by the case and will now be seeking further details from American soccer authorities about the issues raised.

“Due to the severity and seriousness of the allegations being made by players, we can confirm that FIFA’s judicial bodies are actively looking into the matter and have opened a preliminary investigation,” FIFA said in a statement to the AP. “As part of this, FIFA will be reaching out to the respective parties, including US Soccer and NWSL, for further information about the various safeguarding concerns and allegations of abuse that have been raised.”

The alleged harassment of Farrelly started in 2011 when she was a player with the Philadelphia Independence of the now-defunct Women’s Professional Soccer league.

She told the website the harassment continued when Farrelly was with the Portland Thorns. Shim, a former Thorns player, also allegedly experienced harassment. The Thorns said Thursday that the team investigated claims about Riley and passed those on to the league when he was dismissed.

Riley told The Athletic the allegations were “completely untrue.”

Outcry over the allegations rocked the league and forced this ’s games to be called off. The NWSL Players’ Association said it hoped fans would understand and support the decision.

“It is OK to take space to process, to feel and to take care of yourself,” the union said. “In fact, it’s more than OK, it’s a priority. That, as players, will be our focus this weekend.”

Baird became commissioner of the NWSL in February, 2020, after serving as chief marketing officer of the States Olympic Committee. She was praised for brining new sponsors to the NWSL and increasing the league’s visibility on the national stage.

OL Reign midfielder Jess Fishlock, who has been playing in the NWSL since its inception in 2013, suggested the league, and women’s sports overall, are in the midst of a reckoning.

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