The team announced, that Merritt Paulson, owner of the Portland Thorns and MLS Portland Timbers, will not travel to Washington, D.C. for Saturday’s NWSL Championship between Thorns and Kansas City Current. in the current situation.
Pressured to sell both teams, Paulson resigned as CEO of both Thorns and Timbers on October 11 after the publication of the Yates report, which found systematic sexual and emotional abuse of NWSL players.
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The report detailed multiple cases of managers implicated in player abuse and found that some executives ignored complaints made by players, or hid the reasons for a coach’s dismissal. This included allegations against former Thorns manager Paul Riley, as well as Paulson’s role in concealing the reason for Riley’s dismissal, allowing the coach to continue working for the NWSL.
“Merritt is thrilled that the Portland Thorns play another NWSL game,” the statement read. “In light of the recent changes that have been implemented in the organization [Paulson] They will watch the match on CBS remotely.”
The statement added that interim CEO Heather Davis, interim chief operating officer Sarah Kane and general manager Karina LeBlanc will represent the property in Washington “when we hope the Thorns win their third league title in 10 years.”
“As Merritt has been involved with the team and organization, he is committed to ensuring the long-term health and success of the Portland Thorns,” the statement continued.
It is not known if Paulson was present in Sunday’s 2-1 semi-final win over the San Diego Wave. Paulson was not seen in his booth, and when ESPN asked several Thorns employees if he was there, all said they didn’t know.
Explaining the Yates Report: Key Findings on the Abuse of Holly, Riley, and Women
Riley was fired by the Thorns for a reason in 2015 after a complaint filed by former Thorns player Mana Shim alleging sexual harassment and coercion.
Throughout the scandal, Paulson sought to count his mistakes as one in 2015 as the club kept the real reason for Riley’s exit hidden from the public, instead claiming Riley’s contract was not renewed for on-field reasons.
In a letter announcing that he was stepping down as CEO, Paulson wrote that he pledged to “make sure what happened in 2015 never happens again,” adding that mistakes include “not being publicly transparent about Paul Riley’s termination.”
But the Yates report notes that Paulson received player complaints alleging that Riley was abusive and ignored them in 2014, a year before Shim’s complaint led to Riley’s termination.
Records obtained by Yates also show Paulson continued to maintain Riley’s way out of other team owners and downplayed Shim’s allegations in late 2019, instead expressing support for Riley, allowing the coach to remain an NBA employee. Paulson is also accused of making inappropriate comments to players.
With some fans demanding that Paulson sell both teams, and with sponsors like Alaska Airlines redirecting sponsorship money away from the organization, Paulson fired two top CEOs — football chief Gavin Wilkinson and business chief Mike Golub — before resigning as CEO.