Players in the National Women's Soccer League are speaking out against what they described as "unforgivable" conduct following troubling allegations against a former head coach that resulted in the commissioner resigning and the league canceling all of its games this past weekend.
North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley was fired last week after four years with the team following a report in The Athletic in which his players alleged sexual misconduct and verbal abuse. Riley has coached multiple teams across different women's professional leagues since 2006 and was the NWSL's coach of the year in 2017 and 2018.
Riley's dismissal has resulted in some of the league's most prominent players demanding more transparency and accountability in the NWSL. Riley, who has denied all accusations, is the third of the league's 10 head coaches to have been fired for cause or accusations of abuse since August.
"It hurts my heart knowing that this has happened to so many players in this league," Orlando Pride goalkeeper Erin McLeod told Sam Brock on TODAY Monday. "And it continues to happen up until a few weeks ago, and it’s unforgivable.”
In the wake of Riley's firing, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird resigned over the weekend without comment. The league also announced Sunday night that it has hired former U.S. attorney Sally Yates to conduct an independent investigation into the "abhorrent conduct reported" and that it plans to "take meaningful steps to prevent this from happening in the future."
More than a dozen players described Riley in the report by The Athletic as a coach who was allegedly verbally abusive and in some cases committed acts of sexual coercion. Riley has not responded to requests for comment by NBC News.
"How do we know that if we turn up to work every day that this is not going to happen to us, or it’s not going to happen again?" NJ/NY Gotham FC midfielder McCall Zerboni said on TODAY. "Because it did happen again and again and again. And no one in a position of power or ability stopped it.”
U.S. women's national team star Alex Morgan also weighed in with a series of tweets on Sept. 30, saying the league was notified about accusation against Riley "multiple times."
"The league was informed of these allegations multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate the allegations," Morgan wrote. "The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse."
NBC News reached out for comment from Baird and the NWSL and did not receive a response.
Players are now calling for the league to do a better job of protecting them against potential abuse.
"I want to play in a league that I’m proud to play in," McLeod said. "And I think things have to change, or else I don’t think it’s a league worth playing in.”