Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson responds to US Soccer report: ‘Darkest day I’ve had’

Facing mounting public pressure following the release of US Soccer’s investigation into widespread misconduct and abuse in the National Women’s Soccer League, Portland Thorns and Timbers owner Merritt Paulson announced on Tuesday that he would step down, along with executives Gavin Wilkinson and Mike Golub, from any decisions related to the Thorns. taking effect immediately.

The moves will last, Paulson said, at least until the NWSL and its players’ association complete their own independent investigation into league misconduct. Paulson, Wilkinson and Golub will remain in their roles with the Timbers for now without change, The Oregonian/OregonLive confirmed.

“Yesterday’s unveiling of the Yates Report was the darkest day I have ever had, and I know it is the same for everyone who loves our team and our league,” Paulson said in a statement. writing. “I imagine it was even more difficult and darker for those whose stories were shared publicly. We promised the NWSL not to make any media or public statements related to the investigations until the investigation joint NWSL/NWSLPA release in November, which is extremely difficult. I cannot apologize enough for our role in a blatant systemic failure to protect player safety and the missteps we committed in 2015. I am really sorry.

Paulson’s decision comes after the release of a damning US Soccer investigative report which revealed that Paulson and Wilkinson were empowered and vouched for former Thorns manager Paul Riley, who was accused by former players Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly of sexual misconduct. Golub is accused of making an inappropriate sexual remark to former Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone in 2013 and has previously been criticized for fomenting a “toxic” work environment for his employees.

According to Yates’ investigation, Paulson emailed the president of the Western New York Flash vouching for Riley and saying he had ‘a lot of affection for him’, despite knowing the sum of the allegations. of Shim in 2015 and that the coach had been accused of non-sexual abusive behavior towards his players as early as 2014. The report added that Wilkinson blamed Shim for “putting (Riley) in a bad position” and said he “would hire him in a heartbeat.”

Calls for Paulson to sell both the Timbers and Thorns and fire Wilkinson and Golub have intensified over the past 24 hours.

“Given that the Thorns are about to enter the NWSL playoffs, I have told the NWSL that I will be stepping down as of today from any decision-making related to the Thorns until that the joint investigation, with which we are fully cooperating, be released,” Paulson said. . “Gavin Wilkinson and Mike Golub will do the same. Any Thorns-related decisions that any of us would have made will now be handled by Heather Davis, our General Counsel.

US Soccer concluded that the Thorns also interfered with its investigation – which lasted a year – and that Paulson and Wilkinson made inappropriate comments to women in the workplace.

“I very much appreciate your patience and think it’s critical that the process unfold with the joint investigation,” Paulson continued in his statement. “I love the Portland Thorns and women’s football, and I’m taking these steps with those interests in mind.”

Read the full American Football report here.

— Ryan Clarke, rclarke@oregonian.com, Twitter: @RyanTClarke

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