CARY, N.C. — The North Carolina Courage team returned to the field Wednesday night in their first match since Head Coach Paul Riley was fired over sexual misconduct allegations.
The Courage supporters group known as The Uproar is calling for accountability and swift changes in the league.
What You Need To Know
Courage head coach Paul Riley was fired last week after sexual misconduct allegations were revealed in an article published by The Athletic
Courage supporter group The Uproar says coaches have a disproportionate amount of power over players and the group wants to change that
Uproar President Mary Pruter says they want to show the players their support, even if they are frustrated with the league.
"They are the North Carolina Courage, and it takes a lot of courage to be able to stand up against systems like this that haven’t protected you," Pruter said.
Uproar members tailgated at the game Wednesday night and to make signs showing support for the team.
"We want to be very clear that there should be no more silence, and players should be able to speak up. No players should be suffering from abuse or coercion or harassment," Uproar Vice President Jessica Turner said.
Turner says one of the biggest issues is that the players don't have enough power.
"Most of the players, their play, their contracts are at the discretion of their coach and/or the GM of their club," Turner said. "So when you factor that in to the amount of power that a coach has...whether I play, whether I don't play, whether I am traded...basically my livelihood is dependent on this one person and their decisions."
Turner says the players union is currently trying to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, which is not currently in place. That means Courage players' time on the field and contracts are at the discretion of their coach or the general manager of the club.
"They hold all the power to your future. So you do feel like my choice is between doing this thing I don’t want to do — or maybe is against my values or I know is wrong — or my livelihood, my job and my passion and what i’ve been working for my whole life," Turner said.
In a letter published Wednesday before the game, Principal Owner and Chairman of the Courage Steve Malik says he fully supports the three investigations into the handling of abuse claims. He also said they will be providing mental health resources to all staff and players, including a trauma psychologist.
"I am deeply sorry for our part in the failure to create an environment where players feel safe and comfortable coming forward. As soon as we were aware of the serious allegations against Mr. Riley, we immediately terminated his employment," Malik said in the letter.
Malik said as a league their top priority is the safety and security of their players and that their commitment to that promise is "unconditional."
"Professional women’s soccer is profoundly influential among girls and young women everywhere. It is incumbent on us to set a standard of conduct that earns their trust," Malik said.