Paul Riley done with 'political, woke' NWSL after lifetime ban

League dropped the hammer with bans, suspensions, and millions in fines for coaches, teams

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Paul Riley
Paul Riley, banned for life
Image: Getty Images

Even if the egregious quartet of Paul Riley (pictured), Richie Burke, Christy Holly, and Rory Dames never would’ve coached American professional soccer again after their despicable actions towards individual players and teams became widely known, making the official move to ban the foursome from the National Women’s Soccer League was absolutely the right decision. Its concise finality was needed.

Riley’s response

Riley spoke out after his banishment from the league to WRAL, the NBC affiliate in Raleigh, North Carolina, stating he plans to fight a lot of things. What exactly does he plan to fight? Of course, he didn’t elaborate. Riley also stated he has no plans to return to the NWSL. “We have a lot of plans ahead to fight a lot of things,” Riley told WRAL. “Absolutely never had any intention of coaching in NWSL again. The political, woke, cancel culture of the league says it all.”

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The report

After scathing reports detailed the quartets’ behavioral patterns over the last two years, including Meg Linehan’s 2021 story in The Athletic, the Yates report released through U.S. Soccer last October and the NWSL’s own internal investigation, league commissioner Jessica Berman announced the four coaches would be permanently banned from the league. Those are the loftiest punishments doled out from the league on Monday after an investigation into “widespread misconduct” concluded. Sanctions were handed out against multiple teams and organizations as well.

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The coaches and their punishments

The four disgraced former head coaches were at the helm at one time of five of the NWSL’s 12 franchises. Riley coached the North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns. Holly led Racing Louisville and Dames was the head coach of the Chicago Red Stars. Burke’s tenure as Washington Spirit head coach ended in 2021. Their ban was instituted by the league as a Level One sanction, the highest on the NWSL’s scale from its investigation. Punishments were handed out on three different levels due to “the degree of severity of the misconduct that occurred, whether individuals in positions of power knew or should have known of the misconduct, the degree or repetition of the misconduct, evidence of retaliatory conduct, the proximate nature of the behavior or action to the present, and actions that failed to communicate the misconduct with others,” a league statement read.

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Other sanctions

The NWSL also handed out sanctions to eight others. Two people, former Gotham FC General Manager Alyse LaHue and former Utah Royals FC head coach Craig Harrington, were handed two-year suspensions from the league. They represented the two Level Two sanctions. Should LaHue want to be employed by a league team after her suspension ends prior to the 2025 season, she must meet certain criteria. Those were identified in a league statement as “acknowledging wrongdoing and accepting personal responsibility for inappropriate conduct, participating in training, and demonstrating a sincere commitment to correcting behavior.”

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The rest of the sanctions were from the Level Three category. The other six coaches sanctioned represented three franchises — former OL Reign head coach Farid Benstiti, and former Orlando Pride coaches Amanda Cromwell. Sam Greene and Aline Reis as well as former Houston Dash coaches James Clarkson and Vera Pauw. That sextet must follow the same NWSL requirements as LaHue to be employed by another league franchise.

The NWSL also handed out several fines, including hefty ones to its own league office and U.S. Soccer as well as requirements for both bodies to make systemic changes. The Red Stars were fined $1.5 million and the Thorns picked up a $1 million fine. Both team owners, Arnim Whisler, and Merritt Paulson, have previously announced intentions to sell their teams amid the investigation. The fines to Racing Louisville and the North Carolina Courage were less, but still significant — $200,000 and $100,00 respectively. Gotham FC and OL Reign were both also fined $50,000 each. The two teams mentioned in the statement, but weren’t fined, were the Spirit and the Kansas City Current. According to the league statement, the Spirit weren’t fined due to being under new ownership, while the Current were found not to retaliate against its own players.