In the NWSL, Protests and Demands as League Returns to Field

In North Carolina, soccer players from both teams Sprinted to midfield To be a part of the silent protest against the abuse scandal that has rocked his league. In Portland, Ore., players from the home team walked into the field in shirts with the slogan “no more silenceAnd demanded – and received – the suspension of a key team executive.

And at Carli Lloyd’s homecoming game just outside of Philadelphia, the retired United States national team star set aside the celebration of her long career for a moment that, she said, was much bigger than herself.

“It’s something you can’t ignore,” said Lloyd as his Gotham FC team played the Washington Spirit in a scoreless draw in Chester, Pa.

Wednesday night marked the first tentative steps on the field for the National Women’s Football League, days after its entire operation was halted as it faced allegations of coaches misbehaving with players, team officials , who didn’t stop it, and a league failing to protect its most valuable asset: its athletes.

The Gotham-Washington game was one of three played in the league on Wednesday, the first night of action since the league canceled its entire schedule over the weekend and announced that its commissioner, Lisa Baird, had resigned.

In Carey, NC, North Carolina Courage, whose coach was fired last week after he was accused of sexual assault by at least two former players, beat Racing Louisville, which in August fired its coach for misconduct. Fired “for reason” after a separate case. . And in Oregon, Portland Thorns players issued a list of demands before their game against the Houston Dash that included the immediate suspension of their own team’s general manager.

In all three matches, the teams stopped play in the sixth minute and the players stood hand in hand in the midfield – a symbolic pause, he said, this represents the six years it took for a group of former associates who filed complaints of abuse to be put to trial. The protests brought together national team stars such as Lloyd, Lindsay Horan and Crystal Dunn, dozens of lesser-known professionals who make up the league’s rank and file and, at least in Portland, even match officials. .

For Lloyd, who admitted he specializes in blocking out crowds, noise, off-field distractions, it was a night to focus on the collective over the individual.

“It’s a huge wake-up call,” she said.

His statement and other brief remarks by players around the league made direct references to two NWSL players, Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, who were accused of sexual abuse by Paul Riley, who won the league championships in 2018 and 2019. Coached for North Carolina Courage. Ignite recent calculations in the game.

Many of football’s biggest and most outspoken stars, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, have weighed in over the past week, and blamed the league, its executives and even That has criticized his teams as well.

But Lloyd has long been too reticent to speak out on social issues. That’s why hearing him so candidly, and arranging for a night to celebrate him in person, underscores the anger that plagues the NWSL and the shared sense of solidarity.

“It’s a reset,” Lloyd said in his postgame news conference, and an opportunity “to create policies to enforce ownership” and coach. And after “one of the worst weeks this league has ever had”, she added, “I’m really proud of everyone, even Soul, playing despite what’s going on. “

Before the game, Gotham players and staff left a handwritten note in the Washington Spirit’s locker room. The note read, “In spirits to our friends. Off the field we support you. Let’s play on the field. Sending you our love.”

The anger of the players’ desperation, however, was clearly visible in the emotional night. During a Zoom news conference with reporters after the game, one of Lloyd’s Gotham teammates, Imani Dorsey, raised the podium when she said: “We’re grinding every single day. We just knock the wind out every single week. It’s heartbreaking. It is destructive. We are trying our best every day and it doesn’t look like the league is doing that.”

Asked what she thought of the fans who have said they would boycott NWSL games, Dorsey said: “Any fan I would say is feeling a failure, or doesn’t have faith in the league, I would say: Have your faith, the players association and the players. We want this league to be better.”

Still, the clamor is showing no signs of stopping.

On Tuesday, Washington Spirit chief executive Steve Baldwin announced he would step down after succumbing to pressure from Spirit players who criticized him for presiding over a toxic and abusive workplace under former team coach Richie Burke. who was fired last week. But Spirit Players dismissed Baldwin’s move as a mere sham and demanded that one of the team’s co-owners, Y. Sell ​​your share to Michelle Kang.

In Portland, Thorn players demanded the immediate suspension of their general manager, Gavin Wilkinson. Wilkinson presided over the team in 2015 after an internal investigation proved the abuse claims against Riley to be so serious that the team sacked him. Within months, Riley was coaching a different team in the league.

Late Wednesday, Thorns announced that Wilkinson had been placed administrative leave. But players and fans quickly noted that his ouster did not affect his similar role with the Portland Timbers of Thorns’ sister club, Major League Soccer.

Meanwhile, the NWSL players’ union released its list of demands ahead of Wednesday’s games, including an investigation into each club, an immediate suspension for the league and team officials for failing to protect players, accessing previous investigation reports. And the search for the league includes a voice. for the new commissioner.

“We are not bringing the NWSL down,” Houston Dash defender Katie Naughton said in a brief statement after her team’s game in Portland, calling for action and an investigation. “We are rebuilding what we know can and should be.

“We believe in our bones that we can do this.”

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