PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The Portland Timbers and Thorns football clubs announced Wednesday morning that the teams’ president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson and president of business Mike Golub have been relieved of their duties.
The news comes two days after the release of an investigative report that found emotional abuse and sexual misconduct were systemic in the National Women’s Soccer League.
The report claims the Thorns tried to cover up the abuse.
The decision to relieve Wilkinson and Golub of their duties comes after team owner Merritt Paulson said Tuesday he would step aside on Thorns-related decision-making.
Wilkinson and Golub’s dismissals are effective Wednesday, according to the press release.
General counsel Heather Davis has been named interim president of Peregrine sports. She’ll oversee business operations for both the Timbers and Thorns.
Ned Grabavoy remains the teams’ technical director and will lead Timbers soccer operations.
Thorns General Manager Karina LeBlanc will continue in her role leading Thorns soccer operations.
U.S. Soccer commissioned the investigation after former Portland Thorns players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim came forward with allegations of harassment and sexual coercion dating back a decade involving former coach Paul Riley.
Farrelly previously told The Athletic that she first experienced Riley’s abuse and harassment in 2011 when she played for the Philadelphia Independence, then again when she joined the Portland team in 2014. She and Shim filed a complaint with the Thorns after the end of the 2015 season.
The Thorns said they investigated Riley in 2015 while he was with the team and reported the findings to the league. They did not renew his contract, but did not make the reasons public.
In February 2016, Riley was named head coach of the Western New York Flash.
The investigation said that when Riley was being hired by the team, Thorns President Gavin Wilkinson said that Riley did not mesh well with all the personalities in the locker room. He went on to say he would hire Riley again in a heartbeat if they could.
The report claims that after Riley was hired in New York, Thorns owner Merritt Paulson congratulated the team in an email saying, “Best of luck this season and congrats on the Riley hire. I have a lot of affection for him.”
At Providence Park Monday, Thorns fans were demonstrating by holding signs that said things like “Merritt Paulson protects abusers.”
Evelyn Kocher represents local advocacy group Soccer City Accountability Now, also known as SCAN, and says their voice will grow louder and louder until Merritt Paulson says goodbye to the Thorns and Timbers.
“We want to take concrete action until we ensure that he sells the team and we ensure that all women working for this organization both in the office and on the field are a hundred percent safe,” she said. “The statement from Merit Paulson on Tuesday was really just a continuation of what we’d already known. The darkest day of his life was the day that, not the days that it happened or the days that he found out about the abuse, but it was the days that we found out that he knew about the abuse.”
Paulson did not issue a statement in response to the report until shortly after noon Tuesday, more than 24 hours after the report was released.
The yearlong investigation was conducted by former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Q. Yates and the law firm King & Spaulding.