PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Oregon’s elected leaders are speaking out in response to a yearlong investigation that claims top executives for the Portland Thorns and Timbers knew about the sexual abuse committed by former Thorns Head Coach Paul Riley.
Gov. Kate Brown’s office issued a statement Tuesday saying the type of systemic, sexual abuse and misconduct described in the report must be addressed with systemic change and an examination of leadership.
“The allegations deserve a thorough public response from the league and the teams involved, and should be followed with concrete plans to implement real changes across women’s soccer at every level to protect players from abuse and misconduct,” her office wrote in a statement.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., also demanded accountability in his statement.
“These allegations leave Oregonians demanding answers immediately because the Thorns players, staff and fans across the state deserve far better than the pattern of abuse outlined in this report,” he wrote.
Brandi Williams, the General Manager of Laurelwood Brewing, says the company may not sponsor the Thorns and Timbers going forward.
“At the end of the day, we can say what we want to say, but I think financially things go a lot further. Our sponsorship for was for one year. And unless we see real true action on the part of the organization and from the league, I don’t think we’ll be considering a sponsorship again,” she said. “I think it’s still kind of like punches you in the gut in a little bit. In a lot of ways, just to hear that nothing had been done.”
The investigation conducted by former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Q. Yates and the law firm King & Spaulding found emotional abuse and sexual misconduct were systemic in the NWSL.
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.
The report, released Monday, claims the Thorns tried to cover up the abuse.
Investigators interviewed more than 200 people and reviewed an estimated 89,000 documents before publishing the more than 300-page report. In it, several pages focus on the former Thorns head coach, 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.”
During a press conference Monday with Cindy Parlow Cone, president of the USSF, KOIN asked if she felt the report confirms the Thorns organization engaged in a coverup.
“I don’t think it’s for me to interpret everything in that report right now. It’s a very large report, over 350 pages, and I’ll be honest with you. This is very emotional for me. Honestly, I’m having trouble absorbing everything in the report. I think it will take some time to read through it and think about the actions and inactions of certain people,” she said.
At Providence Park Monday, Thorns fans were demonstrating by holding signs that said things like “Merritt Paulson protects abusers.”
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.
Here is his full statement:
“Yesterday’s Yates report unveiling was the darkest day I have experienced, and I know the same is true for everyone else who loves our team and our league. I would imagine that it was even harder and darker for those whose stories were shared publicly. We have promised the NWSL that we will not do media or make any public statements related to the investigations until the joint NWSL/NWSLPA Investigation is released in November, which is tremendously difficult. I cannot apologize enough for our role in a gross systemic failure to protect player safety and the missteps we made in 2015. I am truly sorry.
“Given the Thorns are about to enter the NWSL Playoffs, I have told the NWSL that I will be removing myself effective today from all Thorns-related decision making until the joint investigation, which we are fully cooperating with, is released. Gavin Wilkinson and Mike Golub will do the same. All Thorns related decisions until that time that any of us would have made will now be handled by Heather Davis, our General Counsel.
“I very much appreciate your patience and believe it’s critical that the process play out with the Joint Investigation.
“I love the Portland Thorns and women’s soccer, and am taking these steps with those interests in mind.”
Below is the full statement from Gov. Brown’s office:
“The recent investigation and report by Sally Yates and King & Spalding LLP has documented many disturbing allegations involving sexual abuse and misconduct by individuals employed by teams across the NWSL, including the Portland Thorns. Governor Brown thanks the players named in the report for their courage in stepping forward, telling their stories, and demanding change.
“Governor Brown believes that the type of systemic, sexual abuse and misconduct described by this report must be addressed with systemic change––and an examination of leadership––by the USSF, NWSL, the Thorns, and soccer teams and leagues across the nation, from the professional level down to youth leagues. The allegations deserve a thorough public response from the league and the teams involved, and should be followed with concrete plans to implement real changes across women’s soccer at every level to protect players from abuse and misconduct.
“Women’s soccer is a cherished sport in Oregon, and Thorns games have a special way of bringing together Oregonians. Portland Thorns players are heroes for fans of all ages in Oregon, starting with our youth soccer athletes who hope someday that they, too, will wear a Thorns uniform. Those fans deserve to know that the organization reflects the highest character and integrity when it comes to player safety from sexual misconduct.”
Sen. Wyden’s full statement is as follows:
“The charges outlined in the National Women’s Soccer League report are devastating.
“Management in every workplace has a responsibility to set a no-tolerance standard for sexual misconduct.
“These allegations leave Oregonians demanding answers immediately because the Thorns players, staff and fans across the state deserve far better than the pattern of abuse outlined in this report.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.