NWSL turmoil: League calls off weekend games, commissioner Lisa Baird resigns


The National Women’s Soccer League has called off games this weekend after a brutal week of negative headlines surrounding toxic environments and imbalances of power among clubs. The league announced the move on Friday.

“The National Women’s Soccer League announced today that given the gravity of the events of the last week, matches scheduled for this weekend will not occur,” the statement read.

The announcement comes after a grave week for the league that began with the conclusion of investigations into the Washington Spirit which lead to the termination of then head coach Richie Burke. Reporting later in the week detailed sexual misconduct from North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley stemming from the power imbalance between him and his players. Riley was later terminated based on the allegations made against him.

Separate additional reporting also revealed more details on the resignation of former OL Reign coach Farid Benstiti, revealing that the resignation was brought on in light of a formal complaint of verbal abuse made by a player

Lisa Baird out as NWSL commissioner

Late Friday evening after games were called off for the weekend, sourced reporting via The Athletic detailed that commissioner Lisa Baird and general counsel Lisa Levine have been ousted from their positions. The league later announced that Baird’s resignation was received and accepted. There is no update on whether there is an interim commissioner in place.

The news comes adjacent to an announcement from U.S. Soccer that it will be conducting investigations surrounding the NWSL in light of recent reports of abusive environments. U.S. Soccer was the managing partner of NWSL until 2019.  

Players Association responds to events

The NWSL Players Association released a statement after the allegations against Riley were published, offering resources to former, current, and future players which included an anonymous hotline for players to report abuse and access to a sports psychologist if needed. 

The players union also issued a timeline to the league with a list of demands regarding the recent news of Riley’s misconduct, ahead of the now postponed matches.

 “We, as players, demand the following:

  1. NWSL initiate an independent investigation into the allegations published by The Athletic this morning pursuant to the Anti-Harassment policy for a Safe Work Environment by 12:00 p.m. EST on Friday, October 1, 2021.
  2. Any League or Club Stand who are accused of conduct, no matter when it occurred, that violates the current Anti-Harassment Policy for a Safe Work Environment or any mandated reporter who failed to report the alleged reference investigation be suspended immediately, pending the results of the above referenced investigation, and in any event no later than 12:00 p.m. EST on Friday, October 1, 2021.
  3. NWSL disclose how Paul Riley was hired within NWSL after departing from another NWSL Club subsequent to an investigation into abusive conduct during the bargaining session scheduled for Friday, October 1, 2021.”

The organization released the following statement regarding the decision not to play the matches.

These developments are all occurring as the league and the NWSLPA are currently in on-going negotiations on what would be the first ever CBA for players in NWSL.

The pause in the schedule is the first ever of its kind in league history and there is no current time line for rescheduling of the matches. An international break in October could be the only time games could be rescheduled as the league is in the final five weeks of their regular season.





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