Investigation results released on Monday detailed systemic sexual misconduct and emotional abuse within the National Women’s Soccer League—stemming from allegations made by two former Portland Thorns players last year of sexual coercion at the hands of former head coach Paul Riley going back seven years.
In response, three of five Portland City Council members tell WW that Merritt Paulson, owner and CEO of the Portland Thorns, should sell the team.
Mayor Ted Wheeler said that “anyone who knowingly covers up allegations of sexual abuse should have no role in professional soccer,” but his office did not respond to follow-up questions about what practical steps he wants taken next.
As has been previously reported by both local and national outlets, Paulson was aware of sexual harassment and coercion allegations made against former Thorns coach Paul Riley and former staffers Mike Golub and Gavin Wilkinson going as far back as seven years, but helped keep them quiet. It wasn’t until after the report this week that Paulson fired the two latter staffers.
The Monday report also said that Thorns leadership interfered with its investigation by concealing evidence.
Riley was quietly dismissed from the Portland Thorns in 2015 after Paulson and Wilkinson found out about the allegations, but moved on to coach another team within the league for six years. The reason for his departure was characterized as Riley’s choice and as a clash between personalities.
In a statement on Tuesday, Paulson said he was stepping away from making decisions at the management level. But many Thorns supporters are demanding that he sell the team immediately and remove himself from the team permanently.
The three city commissioners who said unequivocally that Paulson should sell are Carmen Rubio, Jo Ann Hardesty and Dan Ryan.
Below are each of the commissioners’ responses.
Mayor Ted Wheeler: “The information revealed in the investigation by the U.S. Soccer Federation is horrific. This egregious treatment of women in sports is unacceptable and anyone who knowingly covers up allegations of sexual abuse should have no role in professional soccer.”
He would not clarify whether he thinks Paulson should sell the team or not.
Commissioner Dan Ryan: “Yes. My understanding is that this decision is with the executives who run the National Women’s Soccer League and Major League Soccer and—most importantly—with Thorns and Timbers fans and sponsors. As a Portlander who has attended soccer matches since the 1970s, I know the relationship between the community and our Thorns and Timbers runs deep. I encourage the leagues to make the right decision for the safety of our players and to build trust with the loyal fans of our beloved teams.”
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty: “I am outraged and saddened at the toxic culture and damaging behaviors exhibited by the Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns front office further revealed in this week’s investigative report. How long will it take for women in sports to be treated fairly? I stand with the Rose City Riveters and all Portlanders who are calling for Merritt Paulson to sell the team and for executives Mike Golub and Gavin Wilkinson to step down.”
Jillian Schoene, chief of staff for Commissioner Carmen Rubio: “Yes, she does believe that Merritt Paulson should sell, and certainly hopes and wants that part of any deal would keep the teams here because we are deeply committed to their success.”
Commissioner Mingus Mapps: Did not respond.