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Awash in crises, NWSL calls off this weekend’s games

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The Washington Spirit’s match against the North Carolina Courage is among the games to not be played this weekend

Chicago Red Stars v OL Reign Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Amid a series of high-profile revelations of abuse and misconduct and growing discontent from the NWSL Players Association, the NWSL today announced that the league will not play this weekend’s games as scheduled.

The league’s full statement is as follows:

The National Women’s Soccer League announced today that given the gravity of the events of the last week, matches scheduled for this weekend will not occur.

NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said, “This week, and much of this season, has been incredibly traumatic for our players and staff, and I take full responsibility for the role I have played. I am so sorry for the pain so many are feeling. Recognizing that trauma, we have decided not to take the field this weekend to give everyone some space to reflect. Business as usual isn’t our concern right now. Our entire league has a great deal of healing to do, and our players deserve so much better. We have made this decision in collaboration with our players association and this pause will be the first step as we collectively work to transform the culture of this league, something that is long overdue.”

It has been a tumultuous year for the NWSL, but over roughly the last eight weeks, things have become significantly more fraught. The Washington Spirit have garnered a series of headlines involving the departure of former head coach Richie Burke — initially positioned as a change in duties due to a health condition before eventually ending with the league declaring that he was fired for cause and barred from coaching NWSL players in the future — as well as a dispute among ownership and a toxic workplace environment, but the issues have spiraled out from there.

The most staggering of these stories came yesterday from The Athletic, with North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley accused of years of sexual coercion and abusive treatment of players (content warning: the piece linked details these accusations at length). Riley was fired by the Courage yesterday afternoon in the aftermath, while both North Carolina and the Portland Thorns (who employed Riley during a significant portion of the time spanning the accusations against him) have faced a major backlash from fans.

Yesterday evening, it was also revealed by the Washington Post that Farid Benstiti — whose track record involved past instances where he was accused of body-shaming and humiliating players — was asked to resign by OL Reign after the club received a complaint about verbal abuse from a player.

These examples come on the tail of Racing Louisville firing coach Christy Holly “for cause” earlier in the season, and with the Players’ Association pushing for a Collective Bargaining Agreement aimed at creating better and safer conditions league-wide. The NWSLPA yesterday demanded a series of investigations, suspensions, and disclosures, and had set a deadline of today at noon:

It is not clear at this point when (or if) the league will play the games impacted by today’s announcement. The Courage have made no statement about the status of the Spirit’s game in Cary, but Louisville has said that the team will honor tickets to their game against Gotham FC “at a later date.”

Similarly, it remains unclear how long this break will last. The Spirit are scheduled to play Gotham FC in five days, with the game having been moved to Subaru Park in Chester, PA, as a nod to Carli Lloyd’s impending retirement.

Update 2:20pm: The NWSLPA has released a statement that includes a note that they initiated the move to not play this weekend, asking the league to postpone games. What follows is the complete statement sent to media:

Yesterday was a profoundly painful day for us, as players, and so many. For many players, the pain has stretched across years. The outpouring of support we have felt has been a beacon of light on a dark day.

Last night, we made the difficult decision to ask NWSL to postpone this weekend’s games to give players space to process this pain. Commissioner Baird and the Board of Governors worked overnight to grant that request.

This was not an easy decision, as there is nothing we love more than playing for our fans. Suiting up for game day under the lights in front of wildly supportive fans is what brings us joy. We refuse to let that joy be taken from us. We also recognize, however, that mental health struggles are real. We know that many of our fans made travel plans, scheduled the night off, or juggled family commitments to attend our games and that this decision impacts you, too. We hope that fans will understand and support us through this time. This is far from over for any of us.

As players, we hope that those who read this statement will hear that it is ok to not be ok. It is ok to take space to process, to feel, and to take care of yourself. In fact, it’s more than ok. It’s a priority.

That, as players, will be our focus this weekend.