‘They should be held to account’: Former soccer player says abuse not exclusive to NWSL


(NewsNation Now) — The reckoning the National Women’s Soccer League is undergoing is a first for that league, but a longtime player says it’s hardly a first for women’s sports.

On Feb. 25, 2019, Ciara McCormack decided 11 years of waiting for the truth to tell itself was long enough.

“I sort of had had enough by 2019, and wrote a blog and just exposed the whole story,” she said on NewsNation’s “The Donlon Report.”

Her post detailed abuse within the Canadian women’s soccer world. “All I can say, with coaches of three different sports involving Canadian national team athletes across the country who were either convicted or charged with sexual crimes in the last two years, it is long overdue that someone took a real interest and started to bring attention to this,” she wrote.

That blog post led fans of the Vancouver Whitecaps, one of the teams where, she said, abuse occurred, to stage three walkouts of games that spring.

It was comforting, she said, to see people take her complaints seriously. But McCormack said more still needs to be done.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 08: Ciara McCormack of the Jets controls the ball during the round 12 W-League match between the Newcastle Jets and Adelaide United at Wanderers Oval on February 8, 2014 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

On “The Donlon Report,” she said she saw a lot of the same issues in stories coming out of the NWSL.

“There just needs to be a focus on enablers because a lot of these organizations find out about these situations and turn a blind eye and allow these people back in,” she said. “They should be held to account for those sorts of decisions, because it really does put athletes in harm’s way.”

McCormack said she saw other coaches get jobs after being accused of misconduct. “It was like being gaslit for 11 years. This is such a serious situation, but nobody’s doing anything.”

To that point, the owner of the NWSL’s Portland Thorns apologized for announcing the 2015 firing of Paul Riley as a mutual decision to part ways, despite the fact the team found accusations of abuse against him credible.

The league called off its games set for last weekend as players dealt with the allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct, including sexual coercion, leveled by two former players against Riley.

Riley was fired by the Courage in the wake of last week’s report by The Athletic and U.S. Soccer suspended his license.

Thorns owner Merritt Paulson, who also owns Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers, released an open letter to fans Monday apologizing for the club’s lack of transparency in handling the matter.

“But we then made an opaque announcement about not renewing Riley’s contract as opposed to explicitly announcing his termination, guided by what we, at the time, thought was the right thing to do out of respect for player privacy,” Paulson wrote. “I deeply regret our role in what is clearly a systemic failure across women’s professional soccer.”

So far, Riley, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird, Washington Spirits CEO Steve Baldwin and coach Richie Burke have all resigned or been fired.

Coming forward with her story was not easy two years ago, and McCormack knows it’s not east for players today. She said on “The Donlon Report” that she hopes it all leaves the game in a better place.

“I think all of our motivation is just to make sure that all the little kids coming up don’t ever have to go through the kinds of things that we went through.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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