In the wake of bombshell allegations against a National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) coach, Nike is speaking out.
A founding sponsor of the NWSL, the Swoosh said it welcomes an investigation into the accusations that were brought to light in a Sept. 30 report from The Athletic, which centered around the two-time Coach of the Year Paul Riley, who previously coached the Portland Thorns.
According to the report, Riley exhibited abusive and controlling behavior, including that of a sexual nature, during his time as the coach at the Portland Thorns. After the report was published, The North Carolina Courage fired Riley from his current coaching role with the team. NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird resigned from her post on the U.S. Soccer board of directors on Friday.
Riley denied most of the allegations to The Athletic and said he did not have sex with his players.
“We are deeply disturbed by the allegations,” Nike told FN in a statement. “Nike believes the safety and wellbeing of athletes are non-negotiable. We welcome the decision taken to investigate and will closely monitor the situation. Nike continues to invest in and support women’s sport while using our voice to advocate for positive change.”
Nike’s three-year agreement with NWSL is set to continue through the end of 2022. Nationwide, Ally, Mastercard, Deloitte, iHeartMedia. Budweiser, and Verizon are also corporate partners of NWSL. Several of them have also voiced their support to the NWSL in statements to Sportico.
On Wednesday, NWSL players paused in the middle of a game to protest the NWSL and honor victims of the abuse.
Nike has previously taken firm stances against those in its network accused of sexual assault and abuse. The swoosh reportedly cut ties with Brazilian soccer star Neymar in 2020 after it started investigating an allegation from a Nike employee about sexual assault from the athlete.
In August, Nike said it would rename the Alberto Salazar building on its Beaverton, Ore. campus after the U.S. Center for SafeSport banned the former Nike coach from long-distance running. Salazar’s alleged misconduct was brought to light in a 2019 New York Times op-ed video featuring former teen track star Mary Cain, who alleged psychological and verbal abuse from her coach, Salazar.
In recent months, Nike’s treatment of female and minority employees and athletes have been a major talking point for the brand. Nike recently made renewed commitments to diversity and equity initiatives.