NWSL commissioner resigns amid scandal

NWSL commissioner resigns amid scandal

The accusations against former North Carolina Courage manager Paul Riley led to the ouster of NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird.

The NWSL announced on Friday night that it had officially accepted Baird’s resignation.

The announcement came hours after the NWSL board of directors reportedly voted Friday to remove Baird and league general counsel Lisa Levine from their roles, according to The Athletic’s Meg Linehan. The vote comes one day after a report from The Athletic detailing not only Riley’s alleged behavior, but Baird’s handling of two players who said they felt sexually coerced by the coach.

Hours after the report was published, the Courage announced they had fired Riley, who had won two NWSL championships and two NWSL Coach of the Year awards during his time in North Carolina. On Friday, the NWSL announced it would not play games this weekend in light of the report and released a statement from Baird in which she took “full responsibility” for her actions.

The full statement:

“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. 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.”

While Baird said she hoped the weekend break would be the league’s first step in changing its culture, the next step was apparently her losing her job.

Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe blasted Baird

While Baird said she took responsibility for how she handled the allegations against Riley, that was only in her second statement on the matter.

The day The Athletic’s report was published, Baird released a statement saying she was “shocked and disgusted” by the “new allegations” detailed in the story. A few tweets from one of the country’s most famous female soccer players quickly indicated that Baird had little reason to be shocked and the allegations were hardly new, especially to her.

Quote-tweeting Baird’s statement, Alex Morgan said the league was informed multiple times of Riley’s alleged behavior and demanded it acknowledge its failure to protect his accusers, former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim.

Morgan included screencaps of Baird receiving and acknowledging an email from Farrelly in April and May. Baird tells Farrelly that the matter had been “investigated to conclusion” and declined to provide any more reason she wouldn’t take action against Riley.

According to The Athletic, Baird had received a letter from 240 player organized by Morgan asking for protections to ensure a safe and inclusive workplaces, a campaign that had been spurred by a group chat between Morgan, Farrelly and Shim.

Shim had also reported emailed Baird about her complaint and saw a reception similar to Farrelly’s, with Baird saying the matter had been investigated and providing few other details.

Baird also received strong criticism from Megan Rapinoe, who called the commissioner’s “shocked” statement “beyond disrespectful.”

Baird was hired as NWSL commissioner less than two years ago, with the hope that she could help raise the league’s profile via her experience in branding and sponsorship deals. Baird had previously worked for a decade as the marketing chief of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Harassment and other misconduct have been a pervasive issue across women’s professional soccer in the U.S., where players are frequently paid below the national average and coaches and executives have a disproportionate amount of power.

Between the coach’s prominence and the league’s lackluster response, the allegations against Riley proved to be a catalyst for action. FIFA, US Soccer and the U.S. Center for SafeSport have all announced investigations into Riley.