Portland Thorns owner Paulson won’t attend NWSL Championship

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 the Kansas City Current, the team it announced. in a statement.

Paulson has been under pressure to sell both teams, and resigned as CEO of the Thorns and Timbers in Oct. 11 following the publication of the Yates Report, which found systematic sexual and emotional abuse of players in the NWSL.

– Broadcast on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, more (US)

The report described many incidents of managers abusing players and found that some managers ignored complaints made by players, or hid the reasons for the coach’s dismissal. This included allegations against former Thorns manager Paul Riley, as well as Paulson’s role in covering up the reason for Riley’s dismissal, which allowed the coach to continue working in the NWSL.

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“Merritt is excited to have the Portland Thorns play in another NWSL Championship game,” the statement read. “Following 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 the Washington owners “as the Thorns hope to win their third league title in 10 years.”

The statement continued: “As Merritt shares 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 available for Sunday’s 2-1 semifinal win over the San Diego Wave. Paulson was not seen in his room, and when ESPN asked several Thorns employees if he was there, each said they did not know.

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– The Yates Report explained: Key findings about the abuse of Holly, Riley and Dames

Riley was fired by the Thorns in 2015 following a complaint filed by former Thorns player Mana Shim alleging sexual harassment and coercion.

Throughout the scandal Paulson has sought to chalk up his mistakes to a single mistake in 2015 where the team kept the real reason behind Riley’s exit from the public, instead said that Riley’s contract was not renewed for reasons on the field.

In a letter announcing his departure as CEO, Paulson wrote that he vowed to “make sure that what happened in 2015 never happens again,” adding that the mistakes included “a lack of transparency public about the termination of Paul Riley.”

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But the Yates report cites Paulson as having received complaints from players that Riley was abusive and ignored them in 2014, a year before Shim’s complaint resulted in Riley’s termination.

Records obtained by Yates also show that Paulson continued to protect Riley’s exit from other team owners and downplayed Shim’s allegations in late 2019, instead showed support for Riley, which allowed the coach to remain active in the NWSL. Paulson is also accused of making inappropriate comments to players.

With some fans wanting Paulson to sell both teams, and with sponsors like Alaska Airlines diverting sponsorship dollars away from the organization, Paulson fired two top executives — football president Gavin Wilkinson and business president Mike Golub — before stepping down as CEO.


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