Portland Thorns owner Paulson won’t attend NWSL Championship

Merritt Paulson, owner of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Portland Thorns and Major League Soccer (MLS) Portland Timbers, will not travel to Washington, D.C. for Saturday’s NWSL championship game between the Thorns and Kansas City Current, the team announced. In a statement.

Paulson has been under pressure to sell both teams, resigning as CEO of the Thorns and The Timbers on October 11 following the release of the Yates report that found systematic sexual and emotional abuse of NWSL players.

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In this report, several cases of abuse of players by managers were explained and it was found that some managers ignored the complaints of players or hid the reasons for firing a coach. It included allegations against former Thorns manager Paul Riley, as well as Paulson’s role in covering up the reason for Riley’s firing, which allowed the coach to continue in the NWSL.

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“Merritt is pleased to have the Portland Thorns play in another NWSL championship game,” the statement read. “Due to the recent changes implemented in the organization [Paulson] Will watch the game remotely on CBS.”

Interim CEO Heather Davis, interim CEO Sarah Cain and GM Karina LeBlanc will represent ownership in Washington “as the Thorns hope to win their third league title in 10 years,” the statement added.

As Merritt shared with the team and the organization, he is committed to ensuring the long-term health and success of the Portland Thorns, the statement continued.

It’s unclear 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 Thorns employees if he was in attendance, each said they did not know.

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– The Yates report explained: key findings on the abuse of Holly, Riley and Doms

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

During the scandal, Paulson traced his mistakes to a 2015 mistake, where the club kept the real reason for Riley’s departure from the public, instead claiming Riley’s contract was not renewed for on-field reasons.

In a letter announcing his resignation as CEO, Paulson wrote that he promised to “make sure that what happened in 2015 never happens again,” adding that the mistakes included “not being transparent about Paul Riley’s termination.”

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But Yates’ report to Paulson notes that in 2014, a year before Shim’s lawsuit, he received complaints from players alleging Riley insulted and ignored them.

Records obtained by Yates also show that Paulson continued to maintain Riley’s exit from other team owners and downplayed Shim’s allegations as late as 2019, instead supporting Riley in allowing the coach to to work in the NWSL. Paulson is also accused of making inappropriate comments to players.

With some fans calling for Paulson to sell both teams, and with sponsors such as Alaska Airlines pulling sponsorship dollars away from the organization, Paulson hired two senior executives — head of football Gavin Wilkinson and head of business Mike Globe — fired him from the position of CEO before resigning.

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