Merritt Paulson Steps Away from Thorns Role After US Soccer's NWSL Investigation

Rob Goldberg@@TheRobGoldbergFeatured Columnist IVOctober 4, 2022

PORTLAND, OR - OCTOBER 06: Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson satisfied during the MLS match between the San Jose Earthquakes and the Portland Timbers on October 06, 2019, at Providence Park in Portland, OR. (Photo by Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).
Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Portland Thorns owner and CEO Merritt Paulson announced he will remove himself from all team-related decisions amid an investigation by the National Women's Soccer League:

Meg Linehan @itsmeglinehan

Statement is in from Thorns owner Merritt Paulson. He is removing himself from all Thorns-related decisions, as are Gavin Wilkinson and Mike Golub. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NWSL?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NWSL</a> <a href="https://t.co/qw5owwDQ55">pic.twitter.com/qw5owwDQ55</a>

General manager Gavin Wilkinson and team president Mike Golub have also stepped away from their roles, leaving the organization in the hands of general counsel Heather Davis.

A year-long investigation led by former U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates was released Monday, accusing both Wilkinson and Paulson of enabling former Thorns coach Paul Riley despite allegations of abuse and misconduct.

"I cannot apologize enough for our role in a gross systemic failure to protect player safety and the missteps we made in 2015," Paulson said in Tuesday's statement. "I am truly sorry."

A 2021 report by Meg Linehan of The Athletic first detailed accusations of emotional abuse and sexual coercion against Riley that took place in 2014. After leaving the Thorns in 2015, he spent five years with the North Carolina Courage.

Wilkinson, who was allegedly alerted of Riley's actions, was also placed on administrative leave at the time following the results of an investigation.

The latest report by Yates revealed that the Thorns front office was notified multiple times about potential abuse by Riley, including an anonymous player survey by the NWSL and feedback given to national team head coach Jill Ellis. Not only did they not take action at the time, Paulson even vouched for the coach when he received another job opportunity in women's professional soccer.

Golub was also recently accused by two dozen former employees of creating a toxic work environment, per Ryan Clarke of the Oregonian.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown has called for "systemic change" after the latest investigation.

Despite the conduct from the front office, the Thorns have thrived on the field. They sit in second place in the 2022 NWSL standings behind only OL Reign after finishing in first place during the regular season last year.