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Opinion: The horrific cost of not hearing what female athletes are telling us

By on October 1, 2021 0

Maybe we should take his wise words a step further: Boys don’t have any trouble throwing stones until someone reveals how many people they’ve hit.

Otherwise, the system stays the same, a system like so many that lets these things happen and finds ways to justify getting around them. Everyone is shocked. Everyone is appalled. Everyone feels bad for the victim (s). But no one is doing anything other than changing the playing field and moving the players.

I thought about it while reading the brilliant report by Meg Linehan, who published a story for The Athletic on Thursday about allegations of sexual coercion and misconduct over a decade against the players of the former Portland Thorns coach and North Carolina Courage, Paul Riley (allegations Riley denied).

While Riley said most of the allegations are “completely false”, he admitted that “there is a chance I said something along the way that offended someone.” He continued, “I don’t belittle my players, comment on their weight or discuss their personal relationships.”

For the National Women’s Soccer League, firing Riley from her post after the story was released was the easy part. Withdraw his coaching license, like they did? Also quite easy.
The athletes, especially Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, had already done the hard part of the job – standing up and speaking out. The NWSL’s statement – that “the behavior described by former players has absolutely no place in our league and will not be tolerated” – is absurd. Of course, as The Athletic reports show, the behavior was tolerated. So often it is tolerated.
“This guy has a role model,” the title of the story reads. A pattern known to the league according to the article and endured by its players, although denied by Riley himself.
The allegations against Riley echo a pattern of lack of accountability all too familiar to women, athletes or otherwise, that recurs over and over again – from the testimony of gymnasts before a congressional committee days ago to lesser-known stories of other behaviors. predators in sports and beyond by those with power over women and girls.
The FBI has a responsibility to Simone Biles - and all women and girls

The call to protect players, to protect women and girls, cannot happen only between colleagues and peers and must be more than words. The structures that govern our world, perhaps above all our world of work (and professional athletes are, indeed, workers) – from sports federations to companies, in higher education institutions and in workshops – must demolish everything. and rebuild in a way that ensures that those in charge actually practice protecting people on the ground.

The United States Women’s National Team and Orlando Pride star Alex Morgan – described in Linehan’s story as working with her teammates to try to find a safe way to report Riley – offered on Twitter documentation about the length of time the NWSL “tolerated” Riley’s behavior. “The league must accept its responsibility”, she wrote, “for a process that has failed to protect its own players from this abuse.”
After Riley’s dismissal on Thursday, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird released an official statement expressing her own shock and disgust, saying that “the league, together with North Carolina Courage, has reacted swiftly in response to these new allegations “.

But according to the tweets, the public release of Morgan’s complaints dates back to 2015, when the league launched an investigation into Riley based on multiple player complaints, shattering any claims for quick action.

If only we had listened to our young athletes

To be clear, the allegations that the NWSL described as “new” were familiar to say the least, according to The Athletic, with the allegations against Riley adding to the pile of horrors that had sat there, ignored, for a decade or more. .

Inaction is too often a choice made by those in charge. We have seen this painstakingly illustrated in the recent courageous positions taken by Simone Biles and Aly Raisman, Maggie Nichols and McKayla Maroney, in their devastating testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which the FBI’s inaction, described in heartbreaking detail, allowed Larry Nassar, the team doctor who attacked them, to continue to abuse young athletes.
One of the critical turning points in the gymnasts’ testimony came with Raisman’s profound observations: She argued that mismanaging the allegations only adds to the trauma of the abuse – it impacts healing.
Biles has just started the journey to determine what kind of impact Larry Nassar’s conviction had on her performance in Tokyo, where she retired from the majority of her events due to what gymnasts call “the twisties.” – the mental incapacity to find the ground in the air. “I should have stopped long before Tokyo,” she told New York magazine, citing Nassar as the reason she stayed in the game, the only athlete from that era still competing, trying to show that he hadn’t stolen “something I’ve worked on since I was 6.”
Meanwhile, the NWSL is in chaos. Friday, the league announced that “given the gravity of the events of the past week”, no weekend game would be played. The NWSL Players Association posted on Thursday: “We refuse to remain silent” on social media Thursday, doubling its commitment to “speaking the truth to power” and breaking down the culture of silence regarding sexual harassment and the misconduct that permeates so many of the public spaces inhabited by women. The NWSLPA’s requests for an investigation into Riley include a request for information on how Riley got his job with Courage while under investigation for his abusive conduct with another club.
These moments cannot concern only the accusers and the accused. They have to be about the structures that allow the accused and silence the accusers, and the change that must come from them. “Nassar is where he belongs,” Biles told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “But those who allowed it deserve to be held accountable.”

Perhaps the hardest part about continuing to see brave women come forward against Nassar, Riley, and others is knowing that people only stop hurting when they can’t get away with it. . Until then, predators will continue to do what they are doing because they can.

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