Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson and Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler have temporarily stepped away from decision-making duties at their clubs. The announcements come a day after the release of an investigative report into abuse and misconduct in the National Women’s Soccer League.
In a statement shared Tuesday, Paulson said he will relinquish active control of the team until a separate joint investigation by the league and the NWSL Players Association is concluded. Gavin Wilkinson, the Thorns’ president of football, and Mike Golub, the club’s president of business operations, will also step down.
“I have told the NWSL that I will withdraw as of today from all decisions related to Thorns until the joint investigation is published, with which we are fully cooperating,” Paulson said in the statement. “All decisions related to Thorns up to that point that any of us would have made will now be handled by Heather Davis, our General Counsel.”
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Allegations against Portland Thorns
While the initial report, written by former US Attorney General Sally Yates, revealed deep-seated abuse and wrongdoing at several clubs, its revelations about the Thorns undermined claims that the club had gone to great lengths to speak out about trainer Paul Riley with a potential employer. , the flash of western New York. The Thorns fired Riley in 2015 after a complaint from player Mana Shim accused the coach of sexual coercion and retaliatory conduct.
Portland’s announcement at the time said it was a mutual separation and included well wishes to Riley on behalf of the Thorns.
The Flash hired Riley in 2016. He remained in charge when the club moved and became the North Carolina Courage. Riley was only fired in 2021, after a report in The Athletic detailed years of misconduct.
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Yates’ report said that Portland provided the Flash with a glowing recommendation for Riley, including a “catch him if (Flash) could” comment, and statements indicating that Wilkinson held Shim responsible for Portland having to fire Riley.
He also said the Thorns impeded the investigation, citing an open letter Paulson wrote that promised transparency before detailing multiple instances where investigators felt blocked by Portland as an organization.
“The lack of cooperation from the Thorns delayed our investigation,” the report says.
It detailed a refusal to turn over documents, “misleading arguments,” attempts to dissuade witnesses from speaking to investigators, and Golub’s outright refusal to submit to an interview.
Paulson and Wilkinson have long been the subject of constant protests at Thorns and Portland Timbers games, with banners and chants calling for Paulson to sell and for Wilkinson to be fired.
Most recently, 107ist, the umbrella organization for both clubs’ supporters’ groups, released a statement on Tuesday demanding that Paulson sell both teams and that both Wilkinson and Golub be fired from their roles.
Chicago Red Stars owner statement
In Chicago, Red Stars owner Whisler’s issued a statement similar to Paulson’s a few hours later.
“I don’t want to take the focus off of the players’ incredible and well-earned run in the playoffs,” Paulson said. “So, in the interest of the club and the players and fans we serve, effective immediately, I will step down from my governance role within the NWSL Board of Governors and hand over operational control of the club to our executive team at chicago.”
Yates’ report found allegations against former Red Stars coach Rory Dames, who resigned after the 2021 season following a report of verbal and emotional abuse in the Washington Post. The ladies were reportedly so enraged that they spit in the players’ faces while yelling at them.
Whisler did not immediately act to protect players when reports first came in against Dames in 2014, according to Yates’ report. Dames was allowed to resign and finish out the remainder of the 2021 season, which ended in a championship loss to the Washington Spirit.
Current NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement Tuesday that the league “supported the important steps taken by the Portland Thorns and Chicago Red Stars.”
The joint investigation between the league and the players’ association is ongoing, and Berman said the investigative team is working to finalize its report by the end of the year without interference from the league.
“While it will take time, we are fully prepared to take the necessary steps to protect the health and safety of our players, staff and other stakeholders in order to create the League that our players, fans, partners and staff deserve and expect.” Bermann said.
USWNT captain says execs who failed players ‘need to go’
During a press conference before the US women’s national team game against England, Thorns defender and USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn said the players “are not doing well.”
The veteran player described the actions of her club’s leadership as “abhorrent”.
“All I know is that the team I play with and the staff, the coaching staff and the medical staff, those people are good people,” Sauerbrunn said. “But the things that have happened above them in the front office as owners are abhorrent and cannot continue. The fact that people are mistreated because things were not done well and well is inexcusable.
Sauerbrunn called for “all US Soccer owners, executives and officials who have repeatedly failed players” to be removed from their positions. He was asked to clarify whether he included the owners and executives of Thorns in his liability claim.
“It includes everyone who continued to fail players over and over again, who didn’t take concerns seriously, who didn’t convey information correctly, who didn’t participate in investigations, all of them,” he said. “If people continue to fail players and fail to do anything that is asked of them or implemented because of these reports, then they need to go.”
Pro Soccer Wire contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Portland Thorns, Chicago Red Stars owners bow out after NWSL report