Football Americana

Meg Linehan discusses future of NWSL as it navigates aftermath of abuse allegations

Lizzy Becherano
Demonstrations during NJ/NY Gotham City FC v Orlando Pride in support for NWSL players
Demonstrations during NJ/NY Gotham City FC v Orlando Pride in support for NWSL players / Roy K. Miller/ISI Photos/GettyImages

The Athletic writer Meg Lineham explained the process of writing the breaking news story that highlighted Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly’s sexual and emotional abuse and harassment under former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley, adding she couldn’t help but have her own 'emotional reaction'.

Lineham recently spoke to Yael Averbuch West on 90min’s newest podcast Football Americana, commenting on the impact of her story and the next step for the National Women’s Soccer League in the United States as it deals with the aftermath of several allegations and ongoing investigations. 

“This has been months in the works. They approached me, because as we see in part of the story, they had gone through a reporting process in 2015, and another reporting process in March/April of this year. When that was unsuccessful, I think the two of them showed incredible, patience is not the word, I think persistence in getting the story out there. Ultimately, it was through the avenue of reporting externally.

"I knew from that first phone call that this story wasn’t going to be crucial to the NWSL, but it was one that had to be reported to ensure that we chase down every single lead that could show the culture around the teams and under Paul Riley.

"I talked to almost every player that he coached since 2010, so it wasn’t only Shim and Farreally’s story, although they are the heart of it. It shows that not only is the behavior normalized and enabled, but also, and these are words that Sinead uses, but an institutional betrayal.” 

Since the publication of Linehan’s story, the NWSL and its players have navigated through the difficult aftermath. 

Paul Riley has since been fired from his position as North Carolina Courage head coach, while former Washington Spirit head coach Richie Burke was banned from the league entirely. Former former league commissioner Lisa Baird resigned as well, leaving the league under temporary CEO Marla Messing. 

The impact reached international level after European women’s soccer teams showed their support by staging a demonstration on the pitch mid-game. Players in the NWSL and FA WSL all linked arms and formed a circle in each of their matches following the revelations. 

Linehan pointed out that the demonstrations and demands made by the players is the first step in a new path of managing the NWSL. 

“I’ve been doing so much media to help get this narrative across that the league as an institution is different than the league as its players. The league does not exist without the players. That’s why the players leading in this particular moment is so important. The path out of this moment as we have seen, is incredible leadership from the NWSL Players Association

"No one is looking for this league to fold or a professional women’s soccer league to fail. The NWSL as a name and entity is secondary, whatever needs to go will go, but was is fundamentally going to survive now is the players and their power.

"That’s why the conversations with Shim and Farrelly, among others, revolved around the idea that the NWSL as a league right now is not sustainable because it’s actively harming the players. We have to understand that.”