Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson, Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler stepping aside during NWSL investigation

Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson and Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler are both stepping down from decision-making roles at their respective National Women’s Soccer League clubs pending the release of the results of an ongoing investigation into numerous reports of sexual misconduct and abuse at the league.

Paulson, who also owns Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers, made his decision in a statement Tuesday, a day after the results of a worrying independent investigation commissioned by US Soccer into abuse of the NWSL was released. A simultaneous investigation is still being conducted jointly by the league and players’ union, and Paulson plans to resign pending its conclusion.

“Yesterday’s unveiling of the Yates report was the darkest day I’ve ever known and I know it has been for everyone else who loves our team and our league,” Paulson said. “I know it was even harder and darker for those whose stories were shared publicly. I cannot apologize enough for our role in a gross systemic failure to protect player safety and the missteps we made in 2015. I’m really sorry.”

Later on Tuesday, Whisler, who also serves on the NWSL’s board of directors, made a similar move with the Red Stars, announcing in a statement: “Our organization strives to build trust and respect between players and staff towards our league and club to restore. and I recognize that my current presence is a distraction, and I do not wish in any way to divert attention from the players’ incredible and well-deserved playoff run.

“In the interests of the club and the players and fans we serve, I will be stepping down from my leadership role on the NWSL Board effective immediately and handing over operational control of the club to our leadership team in Chicago. “

Yates’ report found that Whisler dismissed concerns from players about the abusive behavior of Red Stars coach Rory Dames, who resigned on November 21, 2021 amid allegations of verbal and emotional abuse by multiple players.

Gavin Wilkinson and Mike Golub, both of whom have served in leadership positions on Paulson’s teams, are also stepping down from the Thorns going into the NWSL playoffs. Paulson’s statement did not indicate if the trio will also retire from the Timbers, and Paulson gave no indication that he plans to sell his teams.

NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman issued the following statement Tuesday in support of the two owners’ decisions: “The NWSL supports the important steps taken by the Portland Thorns and the Chicago Red Stars today. I would like the League to continue to evaluate the Yates report to assure you that we remain committed to implementing reforms and disciplinary action, both as a result of the Yates report and the findings of the NWSL/NWSLPA joint investigative team.”

Berman added that the NWSL’s joint investigative team is working to complete their report by the end of the year.

The report, filed by former US Assistant Attorney General Sally Yates, accuses Paulson of enabling and assisting former Thorns coach Paul Riley after Riley was accused of harassment and sexual assault by players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim. The investigation also found that Paulson and Wilkinson made inappropriate comments to women in the workplace.

Golub is accused of making inappropriate sexual comments to former Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone, now US Soccer’s president, in 2013. Golub has previously been criticized for his behavior in the workplace and his tolerance for the wrongdoing of others.

In her investigative report, Yates also accused Thorn’s management of failing to provide information about Riley’s departure from the team in 2015, writing that the club “impeded our access to relevant witnesses and put forward flimsy legal arguments to prevent our use of.” relevant documents.”

The Thorns didn’t disclose why they didn’t renew Riley’s contract that year, and Paulson subsequently vouched for Riley when he got a job with the Western New York Flash, which later became the North Carolina Courage. Riley was with Courage until he was fired in September 2021 after allegations of his misconduct were made public.

Heather Davis, the Thorns’ general counsel, will oversee the team’s decisions in Paulson’s absence.

“I appreciate your patience and believe it is critical that the process proceed with the Joint Investigation,” Paulson wrote in announcing his decision. “I love the Portland Thorns and women’s football and I’m taking these steps with those interests in mind.”

Associated Press information was used in this story.

https://www.espn.com/soccer/portland-thorns-fc/story/4761532/portland-thorns-owner-merritt-paulson-stepping-aside-during-nwsl-investigation Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson, Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler stepping aside during NWSL investigation

Emma Bowman

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