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Saturday sports: FIFA and U.S. soccer investigate sexual misconduct in women's league

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports. The head of the women's pro soccer league resigned after confronting a sadly familiar scandal - accusations of sexual misconduct in the league. Meanwhile, a new record for a star WNBA player. And Tom Brady returns home with some hardware in hand. We're joined now by NPR's Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: Lisa Baird, the commissioner of the National Women's Soccer League, has resigned. FIFA and U.S. Soccer are investigating allegations of sexual misconduct in the league. We should note, this began with a report on the sports website The Athletic. And tell us what it said.

GOLDMAN: What a mess, huh? What it said - it said a lot of things - very lengthy investigation. But kind of the key points were that former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley exhibited favoritism with players, didn't respect personal boundaries. But really, Scott, the explosive part is on-the-record accounts by former players of how Riley allegedly coerced sex from one of them multiple times and forced two female players to kiss in front of him in exchange for him going easier on the team in the next practice. Even after Riley was investigated by one team in 2015 and dismissed, he was allowed to sign with another NWSL team - the one I mentioned, North Carolina Courage - where he coached until he was fired late this week after the report came out. Now, Riley has denied most of the allegations, including the most serious ones about sexual coercion and misconduct. And as you mentioned, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird is out of a job after only about a year and a half on the job.

SIMON: Was it just a couple of weeks ago we were talking about the horrific scandal in women's gymnastics?

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

SIMON: This is going to sound awfully naive, but why do we keep seeing so much abuse against women athletes? Why can't it be stopped?

GOLDMAN: Why does it keep happening? You know, women, even strong female athletes, I think, are put in vulnerable positions with male authority figures. And the women feel as if they can't push back because of safety or fear of it having an impact on their careers. But you know, Scott, there's a lot of pushback from players with this NWSL situation - a huge amount of anger, especially about how players say the league and team officials, many of them men, either didn't act or were dismissive after learning about allegations against Paul Riley.

The most famous player around right now, Megan Rapinoe, captured that anger when she tweeted, men protecting men who are abusing women - burn it all down - let all their heads roll.

SIMON: On a more positive note, Diana Taurasi became the most veteran WNBA player to score a 30-point game this week.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. She's one of the greats. And even when hobbled by injury, she can still shoot the lights out. And she did that in Phoenix's playoff win over Las Vegas Thursday night. She's playing on an injured ankle, but still hit a career-high eight 3-pointers, for a playoff career-high 37 points - not bad for a 39 year old. Take that Tom Brady...

SIMON: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: ...Who's 44.

SIMON: And speaking of Tom Brady - he goes home to Foxboro this weekend. Do you think he'll carry his - the Super Bowl trophy he won with Tampa Bay over to Bill Belichick on the Patriots' side of the field and go, (mocking tone) yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) He may, but I doubt it. That, of course, would be the one Super Bowl trophy with Tampa Bay last season that that he won by himself without Bill Belichick. Of course, there are six others they won together. Many are saying this will be an awkward homecoming, like a family picnic where divorced parents both show up. When Brady left New England after 20 years of immortality to go to Tampa Bay, it wasn't altogether smooth. Lots of people say Brady and Belichick had grown weary of each other.

But in the lead-up to tomorrow's game, both are publicly being very kind to the other. It'll be fascinating to watch how the actual football plays out and, you know, how they scheme against each other, these long-time compatriots.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman - thanks so much for being with us.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.