Portland Thorns owner Paulson won’t attend NWSL Championship

Merritt Paulson, owner of the Portland Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer (MLS), will not be traveling to Washington, DC, for the NWSL Championship on Saturday between the Thorns and the Kansas City Current, The team announced in a statement.

Paulson came under pressure to sell both teams and stepped down as CEO of both Thorns and Timbers on October 11 following the publication of the Yates Report, which uncovered systematic sexual and emotional abuse against with players in the NWSL.

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The report detailed multiple instances of managers abusing players and found that some executives ignored player complaints or concealed the reasons for the coach’s dismissal. This includes allegations against former Thorns coach Paul Riley, as well as Paulson’s role in concealing the reasons for Riley’s firing, which allowed the coach to continue working at the NWSL.

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“Merritt is elated that the Portland Thorns are playing in another game of the NWSL Championship,” the statement read. “With recent changes implemented at 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 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 in Sunday’s 2-1 semi-final win over the San Diego Wave. Paulson was not seen in his room, and when ESPN asked several Thorns employees if he was present, each said they did not know.

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– Yates report explains: Key findings on abuse Holly, Riley and Dames

Riley was fired by Thorns for reasons in 2015 following a lawsuit filed by former Thorns player Mana Shim alleging sexual harassment and rape.

Throughout the scandal, Paulson sought to treat his mistakes as a single mistake in 2015 when the club hid the real reason for Riley’s departure, instead claiming that Riley’s contract not extended for on-field reasons.

In a letter announcing that he was stepping down as CEO, Paulson wrote that he vowed to “make sure what happened in 2015 never happens again,” adding that mistakes included “failed to be transparent about Paul Riley’s termination.”

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But the Yates report cites Paulson receiving player complaints accusing Riley of abusing and ignoring them in 2014, a year before Shim’s complaint resulted in Riley’s contract termination.

Records obtained by Yates also show that Paulson continued to uphold Riley’s departure from other team owners and downplayed Shim’s allegations in late 2019, instead expressing support for Riley, which This allows the coach to continue working in the NWSL. Paulson was also accused of making inappropriate comments to the 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 – football president Gavin Wilkinson and business president Mike Golub – before stepping down as CEO.

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