Merritt Paulson, owner of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Portland Thorns and Major League Soccer (MLS) Portland Timbers, will not travel to Washington for Saturday’s NWSL championship game between the Thorns and the Kansas City Current, she announced the team. in a statement.
Paulson came under pressure to sell both teams and resigned as CEO of both the Thorns and Timbers on October 11 following the release of the Yates report, which found systemic sexual and emotional abuse of players in the NWSL.
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The report detailed several cases of managers involved in player abuse and found that some executives ignored player complaints or concealed the reasons why a manager was fired. This included allegations against former Thorns manager Paul Riley, as well as Paulson’s role in concealing the reason for Riley’s firing, which allowed the coach to continue working in the NWSL.
“Merritt is excited to have the Portland Thorns play in another NWSL Championship game,” the statement said. “Given the recent changes implemented in the organization [Paulson] will watch the game on CBS remotely.”
The statement added that interim CEO Heather Davis, interim COO Sarah Keane and GM Karina LeBlanc will represent ownership in Washington “as the Thorns hope to win their third league title in 10 years.”
The statement continued: “As Merritt has shared with the team and organization, he is committed to ensuring the long-term health and success of the Portland Thorns.”
It is not known if Paulson was present for Sunday’s 2-1 semifinal win over the San Diego Wave. Paulson was not seen in his suite, and when ESPN asked several Thorns employees if he was present, each said they did not know.
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Riley was fired by the Thorns for cause in 2015 following a complaint filed by former Thorns player Mana Shim alleging sexual harassment and coercion.
Throughout the scandal, Paulson tried to place his own mistakes as a single mistake in 2015, where the club kept the real reason for Riley’s departure hidden from the public, claiming that Riley’s contract was not renewed for reasons on the field.
In a letter announcing he would step down as CEO, Paulson wrote that he was committed to “making sure that what happened in 2015 never happens again,” adding that mistakes included “not being publicly transparent about his firing Paul Riley”.
However, Yates’ report states that Paulson received complaints from players alleging Riley was abusive and ignored them in 2014, the year before Shim’s complaint that resulted in Riley’s termination.
The records obtained by Yates also show that Paulson continued to keep Riley’s departure from other team owners and played down Shim’s claims until 2019, instead voicing support for Riley, which allowed the coach to stay busy. in the NWSL. 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 dollars away from the organization, Paulson fired two top executives — president of football Gavin Wilkinson and president of operations Mike Golub — before stepping down as CEO.