Women's soccer players hold mid-match protest after abuse allegations: 'We will not be silent'

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(NEW YORK) — The athletes of the National Women’s Soccer League are refusing to return to “business as usual” after sexual misconduct allegations involving a longtime coach upended their community.

In a show of solidarity that even caught announcers off guard, players paused in the sixth minute of their games on Wednesday night to show solidarity for the former players who waited six years for their allegations of sexual harassment and coercion to be publicly heard.

During all three games — featuring Gotham FC versus Washington Spirit, North Carolina Courage versus Racing Louisville and Houston Dash versus Portland Thorns — players from opposing teams linked arms in the center circle during a moment of silence. The games had been delayed due to the scandal.

In a statement released late Wednesday by the National Women’s Soccer League Players Association, the athletes said they sought to “reclaim our place on the field, because we will not let our joy be taken from us.”

“But this is not business as usual,” added the statement, which included a list of eight fresh demands for their league to do more in the wake of the scandal.

“The reckoning has already begun. We will not be silent,” the players added. “We will be relentless in our pursuit of a league that deserves the players in it.”

Finally, the statement said the the players will refuse to take questions from the media that are not related to the abuse and “systemic change.”

Late last week, sports outlet The Athletic published a bombshell report in which two former NWSL players, Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, accused North Carolina coach Paul Riley of sexual coercion and misconduct. Riley told The Athletic that the allegations were “completely untrue.”

Riley was fired shortly after the report was published. League commissioner Lisa Baird resigned a few days later amid accusations, including emails from Farrelly to Baird published on Twitter by U.S. star Alex Morgan, that she did not act forcefully enough on players’ complaints about Riley. The NWSL, FIFA and U.S. Soccer all announced they would launch investigations into the claims.

“On behalf of the entire league, we are heartbroken for what far too many players have had to endure in order to simply play the game they love, and we are so incredibly sorry,” the NWSL’s newly formed executive committee, created in the wake of Baird’s resignation, said in a statement.

“We understand that we must undertake a significant systemic and cultural transformation to address the issues required to become the type of league that NWSL players and their fans deserve and regain the trust of both,” the statement added. “We’re committed to doing just that and recognize that this won’t happen overnight, but only through vigilance over time.”

The scandal is the latest to hit U.S. women’s soccer and reveal the unequal treatment women athletes still face.

In a separate saga, some of the top U.S. women soccer players on the national team have alleged unequal pay for years, despite seeing much more success on the international arena than their American male counterparts.

ESPN contributed to this report.

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