Women Soccer Players Fight Against Abuse | Crooked Media
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October 08, 2021
What A Day
Women Soccer Players Fight Against Abuse

In This Episode

  • Players across the National Women’s Soccer League have recently gone public with stories of verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse and harassment. Following these reports of abuse, the league cancelled all five games scheduled for last weekend. And when games resumed on Wednesday, the saga culminated with dramatic moments of silent protests at all league matches. Meg Linehan, who covers the world of women’s soccer for The Athletic, joins us to discuss the developing story.
  • And in headlines: the Senate voted to raise the country’s debt ceiling for now, Pfizer-BioNTech asked the FDA to authorize its vaccine for emergency use in kids 5-11, and Biden signs an executive order today to protect national monuments shrunk in size by Trump.


Show Notes





Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Friday, October 8th. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.


Priyanka Aribindi: And I am Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day, where we’re volunteering to respond to Senate subpoenas related to the January 6th attack if Trump and his friends won’t do it.


Tre’vell Anderson: Listen, I mean, I saw it. You saw it.


Priyanka Aribindi: We all saw it!


Tre’vell Anderson: The world saw—right. So like, listen—


Priyanka Aribindi: Happy to tell you what happened, if you need some clarification.


Tre’vell Anderson: On today’s show, Congress has reached a deal to temporarily lift the debt ceiling, but it’s not completely over yet. Plus, Biden will sign an executive order today to protect national monuments shrunk in size by Trump.


Priyanka Aribindi: But first, we want to catch you up on an important story that’s developed in the sports world. It’s been an incredibly emotional week for players in the National Women’s Soccer League or NWSL. Players across the league went public with stories of verbal, emotional and sexual abuse and harassment. Many of the accused, coaches and high-ranking officials, were either placed on leave, fired or resigned, including League Commissioner Lisa Baird, who resigned last Friday.


Tre’vell Anderson: Following these reports of abuse, the league canceled all five games scheduled for last weekend. And when games resume, the saga culminated with this dramatic moment on Wednesday:.




Tre’vell Anderson: At the six-minute mark, during all three of the games being played, teams took to the field and linked arms in a circle for a minute of silent protest.


[clip of announcer] I think you can see, you can feel the weight of this statement, this moment for the players.


Tre’vell Anderson: That’s the moment when it happened between Gotham FC and the Washington Spirit.


Priyanka Aribindi: The controversies that have been bubbling up in the past week are just the latest problem for the league and the allegations of the abuse that the players say they’ve suffered. It was sparked by a recent investigation by Meg Linehan, staff writer for The Athletic, who we have here today to tell us more about what’s happening. Meg, welcome to What A Day.


Meg Linehan: Thank you for having me.


Priyanka Aribindi: So your story focused primarily on Paul Riley, who the former head coach of the North Carolina Courage. We say former because right after your piece came out, he was fired. Can you give us a recap of what the players there were telling you was going on with him?


Meg Linehan: Thursday’s story was really the stories of two former players Sinead Farrelly and Mona Shin, and this is a story for a player like Sinead Farrelly going back a decade to her rookie season with the Philadelphia Independent. She was drafted number two overall by Paul Riley. Her story to me was by the end of that first season, she felt coerced into having sex with him, and that happened two more times between 2011 and 2012. And then her story intersects with Mana Shin with the Portland Thorns. And there she felt targeted by him. He started changing film sessions to his apartment. There was one night after a night out at a bar, and he asked the two of them to kiss. The promise was if they did kiss in front of him that the entire team wouldn’t have to run this fitness drill the next training session, and they did not run that training drill at the next training. And there’s another part of the story as well as, it’s not just necessarily the behavior that they discussed, but also their journey to try to get their stories listened to because they had so much concern for current players. So really, the whole tail end of that story from last week on The Athletic that we had was them trying to figure out how to get the commissioner of the NWSL at the time, Lisa Baird, to open a new investigation to hear them out. And they were essentially told, Thank you for your bravery, but no investigation.


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. So there’s, there’s a lot there. But then also this past week, the CEO and owner of the Washington Spirit, Steve Baldwin, resigned. Exactly how widespread is this issue? Can you go over what was going on with the Washington Spirit as well?


Meg Linehan: Sure, Washington Spirit have been their own journey over the past few months. So yes, the managing partner Steve Baldwin resigned, but still fundamentally, he owns 35ish%of the team. But you know, players, someone like Kaya McCullough stepped forward and went on the record to discuss this environment of verbal abuse and racism, honestly, but also homophobic language that was happening with the coaching staff, former head coach Richie Burke. So the Washington Spirit have their own situation, but again, to your point, this has not been the standalone problem in the NWSL, over the past year plus, we’ve had a lot of situations and that goes back to reporting that I was involved in about 14, 15 months ago now. It’s honestly been going on for a while. There have been situations beyond this, but it just feels like it has been everywhere for the past year or so.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, definitely. I want to ask you about how a culture like this, or how you think a culture like this has been able to breed throughout this league for so long.


Meg Linehan: There’s a few elements here, right? There is this focus on the positive, right? There’s also this fear from players that any negative story, so exactly what we’re talking about right now could not just affect you, but your team could go down. The entire league could go down. And we’ve seen that in the past. This is the third version of women’s professional soccer in this country. So we spoke about in the story the sense of silence that has permeated because of this fear where it’s not just you need to be quiet, but you need to make it look like you’re happy because otherwise this sport might not survive. There’s all of this stuff building into this moment, and now we’re finally starting to see players realize that a, the solidarity part for them is really important, but also that someone needs to lead on their behalf. And ultimately, it should really be them.


Tre’vell Anderson: We’ve mentioned already that the league’s commissioner, Lisa Baird, resigned last Friday. All of last weekend’s games were canceled. Could you give us a little bit more about like what the players are looking for by coming out with their stories and all of that?


Meg Linehan: Yeah, I mean, obviously, you know, the moment at the games on Wednesday night was extremely powerful, but also that, that moment of protests and solidarity was joined by a list of eight demands for the League that was just the players association. The Portland Thorns team, for instance, has their own list of demands for their front office. So we now have at least, I think, five investigations going. And so a big concern for the players is not just that those investigations are effective, but that we’ve needed transparency in the NWSL since the NWSL started and now I think more than ever, that is, kind of one of the key demands is transparency and a proactive approach.


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m wondering where you think they go from here? Do you think that the League can make these reforms? Do you think the League implodes?


Meg Linehan: I think the intention is not to suddenly shut the League down because again, that’s the fear, right? The fear is all of a sudden 250 of us are not going to have jobs tomorrow. But there is, I think, a path out for the NWSL, and it’s going to be a long path to reform, to new policies that the League and the clubs have to do. And I think the players have really shown they don’t want to burn the League down. They want to figure out what is wrong, get rid of what is wrong, and then make it stronger.


Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. You’re saying the players union, they’re also in negotiations with the League about things like higher pay, those salaries. Most of them are making less than $31,000 a year, I know, have to pick up second jobs. Things like that. Have all of the controversies [unclear] factored into any of those talks, or is it too early to tell?


Meg Linehan: I mean, I think the the players association is definitely in a pretty strong position for collective bargaining now, right? But part of what we were watching with the CBA negotiations even before all of this really happened was we knew for a fact that really it was only former Commissioner Lisa Baird who was in these meetings. The owners had not been participating. How do you proceed with figuring out how to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with people who have not been at the table? I think we’ve seen how the pressure from players can really play an important role in both negotiation, but also really kind of dragging the League to where it should be. But the collective bargaining agreement was already such an important story for the NWSL, and now it’s just, it’s really one of the highest highest priorities across the NWSL at this point in time.


Tre’vell Anderson: Now we spoke about the moment of silence that happened at the games at the six-minute mark. The players association said that it was a nod to the six years it took for several victims to be heard. The League issued a statement about the protest that said, quote “We understand that much needs to be done to regain their trust.” But I’m wondering—I should say I’m a naturally pessimistic journalist, FYI—so in your mind, I’m wondering, what has the League done so far that to you actually shows some promise or some movement here?


Meg Linehan: So that’s a really good question. That’s a really good question, because I don’t know if enough has happened for that. And so I think what we’re already seeing is that the players are going to be willing to take every single game day because if the League is not rising to the level that the players want to see, there’s absolutely potential that we might have more games postponed or called off. So there is a new executive committee. It’s three women from the Board of Governors. U.S. Soccer launched their investigation and hired Sally Yates to run it. So it’s really hard, I think, to compete with that name in terms of running an investigation that is still—I joked about this on Twitter—I did not have Sally Yates on my bingo card coming out of the story. But I think the NWSL, has not necessarily stepped up to the level that I think most, it’s not even just the players, but I think also, you know, the supporters and everyone else kind of watching. It’s going to be a long journey. And again, I think it needs to be more proactive of how do we get there faster? And so far, it has not exactly been at the level that most were hoping for.


Priyanka Aribindi: Well, Meg, thank you so much for being here and answering all these questions.


Meg Linehan: Thank you for having me.


Priyanka Aribindi: Meg Linehan is a staff writer for The Athletic, who covers the world of women’s soccer. And if you haven’t been following Meg’s great coverage on all of this, we will have a link to her stories and her Twitter in our show notes. That is the latest for now. It’s Friday, WAD squad, and today we’re doing a segment called The Solution, where we propose a fix to a news story that has created chaos in our world. Guiding us through today is our writer Jon Millstein. Hey, Jon.


Jon Millstein: Hi. Thank you guys for having me to do this important work.


Tre’vell Anderson: This week, Singer Meghan Trainor gave us an all-new intrusive thought by revealing that she and her husband, Daryl Sabara from Spy Kids, designed their home to include two side-by-side toilets in the master bedroom. Trainer made the announcement on her brother’s podcast. She said the tandem toilets let her and Mr. All About That Bass pee together. There’s another thing you do on toilets, but Trainor clarified that she and her husband have only collaborated on that particular project one or maybe two times. Obviously “Two-toilet-gate” has made all of us question everything we ever thought we knew about marriage and/or houses. So for Megan Trainer’s, weird bathroom, Jon has the solution.


Jon Millstein: We need to send former President Donald Trump, whose middle name is actually another word for toilet, to Meghan Trainor’s house to see if toilets still require tons and tons of flushes if they’re sat side by side in a lover’s bathroom. Maybe you don’t remember, but in the twilight of his presidency, Donald “Toilet” Trump took on plumbing issues with gusto. When his supporters showed up to his rallies in giant numbers instead of doing things of a political nature, he used his time to convince them that the toilets of our modern age worked so bad they’re basically just open chairs.


[clip of President Trump] People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once.


Jon Millstein: If Trump’s amazing theory of a 15-flush toilet is true, it has massive implications for the honeymoon toilet suite designed by Meghan Thee Trainor. We could be talking about 30 flushes per visit, which is wasteful and would surely make the neighbors think that Meghan and her husband are getting rid of evidence—though in a sense they are, evidence of eating dinner just hours before. Of course, all our lived experiences of toilets tell us we should expect a normal one-and-done flush situation in this bathroom. But toilets seem to act differently around President Trump. Maybe they let their guard down because they see him as one of their own. And if that’s what’s going on and this bathroom is actually a 30-flusher, it needs to be bulldozed immediately and replaced with green space for the community. Only after Trump conducts this research on Meghan Trainor’s his & her toilets can we begin to understand deeper questions about them, such as: is it time to tell celebrities they’re never allowed to appear on any other podcasts?


Priyanka Aribindi: My God, where do I even react, where do I even begin? Jon!


Tre’vell Anderson: I’m, I’m still stuck on the, on Trump finding community with toilets. It’s a very vivid image in my mind.


Priyanka Aribindi: I do disagree with you, though. I think that is a curse, a cursed area. I don’t think that can become space for the community. I think we just have to abandon, abandon forever.


Jon Millstein: Yeah.


Priyanka Aribindi: No, no.


Jon Millstein: It will naturally form a sinkhole through to China.


Priyanka Aribindi: And our producer Leo has noted it’s very appropriate your name is Jon.


Jon Millstein: Yes.


Priyanka Aribindi: And you’re doing this segment.


Jon Millstein: I’m also a toilet. Yep, I’m a toilet. Thank you, guys.


Priyanka Aribindi: That was The Solution. We will be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Tre’vell Anderson: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Tre’vell Anderson: Congressional leaders finally reached a deal that allows the U.S. government to keep paying its bills, for now. The Senate passed a measure last night to raise the country’s debt ceiling at least through December. At the last possible second, enough Republicans joined Dems to break the filibuster, paving the way for this deal to happen. The final step is expected to take place next week, when the House will vote on it too, where it will most likely pass. The deal ups the country’s borrowing limit by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department estimates should be enough through the beginning of December. There was quite a lot of drama leading up to this deal, to say the least. However, we’re in the clear for now, though the agreement does not resolve the broader standoff between the two parties over a long-term solution. So that means will most likely be right back here on December 3rd, watching the government scramble again to not default on its debt.


Priyanka Aribindi: And you know what? Not to promote our own show, but we will be right here on What A Day covering it you, so see you then everyone. All right. We potentially have some good news on the vaccine front for children. Pfizer BioNTech asked the FDA yesterday to authorize its vaccine for emergency use in kids ages 5 to 11. An FDA advisory panel will consider the request at its meeting on October 26. And if regulators give it the green light, an estimated 28 million children in the U.S. will be eligible for shots come Halloween, though unfortunately not quite soon enough for them to put their immunity to the ultimate test by bobbing for apples. In more COVID news, l.A. has joined New York and San Francisco in passing a sweeping vaccine mandate. Beginning last night, the county says that anyone over 12 must show proof of at least one vaccine dose or a negative test result if they want to enter indoor businesses like restaurants, bars, gyms and more. And beginning November 4th, they must be fully vaccinated in order to enter these places.


Tre’vell Anderson: Palestinians are pushing back against a new ruling by an Israeli court that will allow quiet Jewish prayer at the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in Jerusalem, in violation of a long-standing agreement which dictates that Muslims pray at Al-Aqsa while Jews worship nearby at the Western Wall. Attacks by Israeli police on Muslim worshipers at Al-Aqsa sparked weeks of bombings and missile strikes in Palestine and Israel earlier this year, and there have been frequent confrontations there since then. Muslim leaders have unanimously condemned this recent legal action and see it as an encroachment and a provocation which could escalate hostilities. Furthermore, many questioned the decisions legal basis since Al-Aqsa is controlled by Jordan and not subject to Israeli laws. Even Israeli police have called for the ruling, which was issued on Tuesday, to be reversed.


Priyanka Aribindi: Wow. Two of the parcels of land in the U.S. not currently affected by a giant oil spill, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah, will see their territories enlarged today by the Biden administration. The White House confirmed last night that an executive order was coming. This is after Interior Secretary Deb Haaland sent Biden a report saying that she supported one back in June. Bears Ears National Monument was established by President Obama in 2016, but a year later, Trump shrunk the monument by 85% and Grand Staircase-Escalante land by half. He did so against the protests of tribal nations in the area for whom Bears Ears is their ancestral homeland. But he did have the support of fossil fuel companies and Utah Republicans, for whom Bears Ears is a hot pie cooling on the windowsill, but for drilling, mining and ranching. Biden will actually expand Bears Ears slightly beyond Obama’s 2016 borders, and he’ll also enlarge another national monument slashed in size by Trump: the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts off the coast of New England. Unsurprisingly, this news triggered uproar from Utah Republicans, who argue that a legislative solution would have been preferable to executive action. Of course, for them, the best option would have been none whatsoever.


Tre’vell Anderson: Oh yes, inaction is the best action. It’s why we elect them anyway. Right?


Priyanka Aribindi: No, none of have elected them. [laughs] They just rig the system to elect themselves. That just, fine, done. Those are the headlines. One more thing before we go: Lovett or Leave It is back with weekly live shows at the Cinelounge Outdoors in Hollywood through November 4th. On October 14th, Lovett will be joined on stage by WAD Squad alum Akilah Hughes! Plus Larry Wilmore, Solomon Georgio, and Brandon Wardell. For tickets, head to Crooked.com/events.


Tre’vell Anderson: That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, don’t take your one-toilet bathroom for granted, and tell your friends to listen.


Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading, and not just love letters from Utah Republicans to drilling sites like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson.


[together] And care with those buckets of apples, children.


Priyanka Aribindi: I thought that was going to go into like a different type of bucket, bucket toilet joke, and I’m glad we did not go in that direction.


Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes. Jazzi Marine is our associate producer. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and myself. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.