Merritt Paulson, owner of the National Women’s Soccer League’s (NWSL) Portland Thorns and Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Portland Timbers, will not travel to Washington DC for Saturday’s NWSL Championship between the Thorns and Kansas City Stream, the teams announced. In a statement.
Paulson has come under pressure to sell both teams, and resigned as CEO of both the Thorns and the Timbers on October 11 following the publication of the Yates Report, which found systematic sexual and emotional abuse of players in the NWSL.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, more (US)
The report detailed several instances of managers abusing players and found that some executives ignored complaints made by players or hid the reasons for firing a coach. This included allegations against former Thorns manager Paul Riley, as well as Paul’s role in covering up the reason for Riley’s firing, allowing the coach to continue working in the NWSL.
“Merritt is excited to have the Portland Thorns play in another NWSL championship game,” the statement read. “In view of the recently implemented changes in the organization [Paulson] The game will be watched remotely on CBS.”
Interim CEO Heather Davis, interim COO Sarah Keane and GM Karina LeBlanc will represent ownership in Washington “as the Thorns hopefully win their third league title in 10 years,” the statement added.
The statement added: “As Merritt shared with the team and organization, he is committed to ensuring the long-term health and success of the Portland Thorns.”
It is unknown if Paulson was available for Sunday’s 2-1 semifinal win over the San Diego Wave. Paulson was not seen in his suite, and when ESPN asked several members of the Thorns staff if he was present, each said they did not know.
– Yates Report Explained: Key Findings of Holly, Riley and Dames Abuse
Riley was fired by the Thorns for cause in 2015, according to a complaint filed by former Thorns player Mana Shim alleging sexual harassment and coercion.
Throughout the scandal, Paulson has tried to position his own missteps in 2015 as a single mistake, where the club hid the real reason for Riley’s departure from the public, instead claiming Riley’s contract was not renewed for on-field reasons.
Announcing his departure as CEO, Paulson wrote that he vowed to “make sure that what happened in 2015 never happens again” and faulted “a lack of public transparency about the firing of Paul Riley.” and included.
But the Yates report cites that Paulson received player complaints alleging Riley’s abuse and that his neglect led to Riley’s firing in 2014, the year before Shim’s complaint.
Records obtained by Yates show Paulson continued to distance Riley from other team owners and downplayed Shim’s allegations by late 2019, instead voicing support for Riley, allowing the coach to remain employed in the NWSL. Paulson has also been accused of making inappropriate comments to players.
With some fans calling for Paulson to sell both teams and sponsors such as Alaska Airlines diverting sponsorship dollars from the organization, Paulson fired two top executives — football president Gavin Wilkinson and business president Mike Golub — before resigning as CEO.