Women's Football

Heather O'Reilly criticizes NWSL for ignoring decades' worth of problems

Lizzy Becherano
Heather O'Reilly criticizes the NWSL for their mishandling of players
Heather O'Reilly criticizes the NWSL for their mishandling of players / Streeter Lecka/International Champions Cup/GettyImages

Former midfielder Heather O’Reilly admitted women's soccer in the United States "swept a lot of bad things under the rug" to enable the National Women's Soccer League to be successful.

The midfielder joined the American league in 2009 with Sky Blue FC, now known as NJ/NY Gotham FC. She last played for the North Carolina Courage in 2019, making eight appearances for the team under Paul Riley.

O’Reilly’s comments come after former NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird resigned from her position on the U.S. Soccer board of directors and amid allegations of sexual coercion and misconduct by former North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley.

"I think women's football has swept a lot of bad things under the rug because we want the league to succeed," O'Reilly, who won three Olympic gold medals and the World Cup, told the BBC on Friday.

"We want to continue our personal careers and there's not as many opportunities for players to be professional footballers so I think that's a reason why a lot of things are just dealt with. As a player, you just take it. In the NWSL there's not a ton of human resources employees at clubs, there's not a hotline for players to call, so that's why so many things happen time after time and aren't disciplined."

Since former NWSL players Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly went public with the allegations, the NWSL Players Association has voiced multiple concerns to improve protocols and initiatives. 

The league has reopened the investigation into Riley’s situation as well as creating new programs to make players feel safe and protected. The league announced new comprehensive policies and procedures would be adopted to ensure “a systematic, transparent, and effective execution of any harassment or workplace conduct issues.”

FIFA has also launched a preliminary investigation after Shim and Farrelly’s revelations against Paul Riley went public.