The Time Is Now

Support local, independent reporting.

Help the city we love by joining Friends of Willamette Week.

JOIN NOW

Portland’s Top Two Sports Executives Face Probes of Their Behavior. Here’s Where the Investigations Stand.

GMs across the NBA are unnerved enough that ESPN says they’ve discussed forming a professional association.

Earlier this month, the Portland Thorns announced they’d hired former goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc as the soccer team’s general manager. Her hiring gives LeBlanc a dubious honor: She’s the only GM of a Portland professional sports franchise not under investigation for workplace misconduct.

LeBlanc’s predecessor at the Thorns, Gavin Wilkinson, still runs the Portland Timbers for owner Merritt Paulson. Neil Olshey oversees basketball operations for the Portland Trail Blazers. Both teams hired outside firms this fall to probe allegations the executives oversaw operations where employees dreaded coming to work.

Here’s how the investigations are proceeding.

GAVIN WILKINSON

Date inquiry began: Oct. 4

Scope of investigation: On Sept. 30, sports website The Athletic published a lengthy report on a series of unnerving allegations of sexual misconduct by former Portland Thorns coach Paul Riley. In 2015, Thorns midfielder Mana Shim filed a detailed complaint with Wilkinson and team owner Merritt Paulson describing Riley’s misbehavior (including an allegation that the coach pressured Shim to kiss a teammate in front of him). Riley was fired in the offseason, seemingly on account of his poor performance that year, but Wilkinson has claimed that Riley’s harassment was also a factor. The Thorns front office maintains it fully informed the National Women’s Soccer League what it knew of Riley’s behavior—but what Wilkinson knew and what he told the league is the subject of the investigation.

Who’s conducting the investigation: Paulson said Oct. 4 that the Thorns have hired “outside lawyers, including a female former federal prosecutor,” but the team hasn’t responded to WW’s questions about who those lawyers are.

His status: The Thorns replaced Wilkinson with LeBlanc, but he continues to manage day-to-day operations for the Timbers.

Most damning allegation: The Athletic’s article also details a bizarre conversation Shim recalls having with Wilkinson. A day before the NWSL championship game in 2013, Shim came out publicly as LGBTQ. After the title game, Shim met with Wilkinson, who allegedly “instructed her to not be as vocal about off-the-field matters.” Shim claims that “Wilkinson’s tone was genial, but the message was clear: We don’t talk about being gay or having pride. We play soccer.” Wilkinson denies Shim’s account of that conversation—he called it “bullshit.”

When the inquiry will conclude: Maybe later than you’d think. Players are insisting on a thorough investigation, and fan groups are intimately invested in the outcome. Thorns representatives did not respond to WW’s questions by press deadline.

NEIL OLSHEY

Date inquiry began: Announced Nov. 6.

Scope of investigation: Olshey is accused of fostering a toxic work environment in the Trail Blazers’ basketball operations department, where he is alleged to have subjected employees to routine verbal abuse, intimidation tactics and bullying.

Who’s conducting the investigation: O’Melveny and Myers, a Los Angeles law firm.

His status: Still on the job, but no longer sitting in a courtside seat next to owner Jody Allen.

Most damning allegation: When Dan Dickau, a former Blazer player and coach, was dismissed by the basketball operations department, he contacted the team’s chief marketing officer, seeking another job in the organization. When Olshey found out, Dickau says, he called Dickau and subjected him to a profane tirade. “You former players don’t get it,” Dickau recalls Olshey saying. “You don’t work. You’re lazy.”

When it will conclude: The Blazers decline to say, but it’s expected to wrap up soon. GMs across the NBA are unnerved enough that ESPN says they’ve discussed forming a professional association—yep, like an executives’ union—to pay legal expenses for embattled bosses like Olshey.