BEYOND THE BOOK BLOG

The Paul Riley Saga Shows Us We Just Never Know for Sure

Published: October 15, 2021
Written by: Joanna Lohman

In a book filled with life lessons of which I am immensely proud, I’ve recently been haunted by the words on one page I wish I could take back.

I was one of the many players in women’s soccer that sang Paul Riley’s praises. I wrote an entire sidebar in this book on Page 85 detailing how great of a coach he was. I even provided examples of the ways he was able to cultivate team chemistry and create challenging training sessions that enabled his players to thrive. I wrote that the world of soccer needed more Paul Rileys.

I could not have been more wrong.

A page in our book we now deeply regret . . .

After recently learning and listening to the stories of Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, I instantly realized Paul had a true dark side. While I once credited him for putting his office in our team lounge so that players could have the freedom to talk with him about “anything and everything,” it is now clear this was also a way for him to impose his will and predatory nature. His large personality that could command a room also coerced my teammate, Sinead, and also Mana to feel “owned” and abused. 

Regardless of the titles and trophies Paul had won during his coaching tenure, his behavior off the field was disgusting and inexcusable. A great coach, first and foremost, treats players with dignity and respect. A great coach creates a safe space where each athlete feels protected. A great coach does NOT use their power to influence and manipulate players mentally, physically, or emotionally. 

I regret everything I said about Paul Riley. I was fooled . . . which brings me to perhaps the biggest life lesson of all: You can never be sure of anyone and every red flag needs to be evaluated fairly from an unbiased perspective. It should never have taken six years for accusations such as these to be taken seriously. And know this: An abusive coach can show up at any level of the sport. There have been way too many stories from the club scene all the way up to the professional ranks about coaches who have imposed life-long harm.

Thanks to the courage of Sinead and Mana, alarm bells have been sounded in the National Women’s Soccer League and the entire sport is in a moment of reckoning. I hope we all start to understand that motivation through fear and abuse is totally ineffective and harmful. Raising tomorrow’s champions will require leaders who instill confidence, authenticity, and trust — and a community of parents, coaches, players, and administrators who are dedicated to rooting out this kind of evil.

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