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NWSL players stop matches in league-wide demonstrations, outline demands for first time

In the first night of National Women’s Soccer League matches since the publication of a Sept. 30 report in The Athletic gave rise to allegations of abuse and harassment around the league, NWSL players paused each of three matches played on Wednesday night in a demonstration of player solidarity and support for the victims. The matches resumed after a minute of stoppage and were played in their entirety.

The allegations have rocked the league, leading to the firing of a coach (Paul Riley), the resignation of the commissioner (Lisa Baird), the resignation of a team owner from his role as CEO and managing partner (Steve Baldwin), open letters from other owners, and the launch of several investigations from different governing bodies. And there’s seemingly more fallout by the day.

Beginning with the NJ/NY Gotham FC vs. Washington Spirit match on Wednesday and followed by matches in Cary, N.C. and Portland, Ore., players from both teams, including the benches, stopped play in the 6th minute. They joined together at the center circle locked arm in arm and crowds responded with spontaneous applause and a standing ovation for the players.

“Teams will stop play in each of tonight’s games at the sixth minute,” said a player statement read on air during Wednesday’s CBS Sports Network broadcast of the Gotham FC-Spirit match. “Players are joining together in solidarity for one minute in recognition of the six years it took for Mana Shim, Sinead Farrelly and all those who fought far too long to be heard. We ask that fans join us in this reckoning and in our pursuit of a league that deserves the players in it.”

MORE: Explaining the scandal that has sent shockwaves across women’s soccer

Gotham FC midfielder McCall Zerboni provided more insight into the players’ actions:

Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, who were the two former players who stepped forward to share their stories with The Athletic, were both moved after witnessing the demonstrations:

Absolutely blown away 😭. Tears and chills watching this happen. My heart goes out to every single player-former and current- who has lived through this culture of silence. We are demanding change and we are not going away. https://t.co/0dm9UDbb2Y

— Sinead Farrelly (@lord__shin) October 7, 2021

Simultaneously with the first match stoppage, the NWSL Players Association shared for the first time  a list of eight demands of the league related to the scope, subjects and findings of the investigations, as well as the search for a new commissioner. 

MORE: After firing and resignation, plenty more to do in NWSL

Portland Thorns players went a step further and listed their own demands to their club. Veteran players Christine Sinclair, Crystal Dunn, Meghan Klingenberg, Lindsey Horan and their Thorns teammates shared the same post on their social platforms with one of the requests being that general manager Gavin Wilkinson be placed on administrative leave until the conclusion of an investigation. Minutes later the club issued a statement confirming it had followed through:

CLUB STATEMENT:

Effectively immediately, Portland Thorns FC have placed general manager/president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson on administrative leave from Thorns duties pending the results of the outside independent investigation, which is ongoing.

— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) October 7, 2021

It was a momentous night in the NWSL as captured by the reactions from fans, media and players on social media: 

A little bit emotional with what is happening at the #NWSL games today

— 100% a 𝕲 (@_LeslieJ) October 6, 2021

🙏🏼 believe women that speak up. In ANY environment, in any institution, in any part of the world. We need to believe women that speak up and SUPPORT. And DO something about these things. We NEED safe spaces. https://t.co/tzYcWng6tL

— Janelly Farias (@janellyfarias) October 6, 2021

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