PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – More than a week after an investigative report was released that claimed top executives for the Portland Thorns and Timbers knew about sexual abuse committed by a former Thorns head coach, the team’s goalkeeper is speaking out.
Bella Bixby shared a letter she wrote to Portland on Twitter Wednesday.
In it, she said, “This week has been a heavy time for every player, current and former.”
Bixby addressed fans who may be on the fence about coming to the team’s semifinal match. She said she respect’s anyone’s decision not to come, but for anyone on the fence, she said the team needs its fans now more than ever.
“Seeing our supporters packing the stadium let’s [sic] us know that you are bearing this heavy burden WITH us. We ultimately have no choice but to carry the realities with us on the field, but you may have some choice on if you want to be there to bear it with us,” she wrote.
She asked fans to view their attendance as an act of solidarity with the women on the field.
“Ask yourself, for this one game, do you love and support the players more than you hate a front office?” she said.
The goalkeeper went on to say that she understands that if fans choose not to attend, it’s not because they don’t love the players. She knows everyone will ultimately do what is best for them physically and mentally, but said the team would love to have one last party at Providence Park with its fans.
“Because the club belongs to us,” she stated.
The No. 2 Thorns are hosting their semifinal match at Providence Park on Oct. 23. They’ll play the winner of the San Diego Wave FC vs. the Chicago Red Stars. The winner of the semifinal will advance to the National Women’s Soccer League Championship.
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, Oct. 3, claims the Thorns tried to cover up the abuse.
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.
Portland Thorns and Timbers owner Merritt Paulson announced Tuesday he was removing himself as the chief operating officer of the teams.
The teams also fired their president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson and president of business Mike Golub, after the report was released.
Directors Mortgage and Alaska Airlines announced they would withdraw or redirect their team sponsorship funds.
Read Bixby’s full letter:
This week has been a heavy time for every player, current and former. The entire year has been heavy, truthfully. I understand that a lot of folks are having a hard time deciding whether or not they want to come to our semi-final match; some have already chosen against it. I would like to say that I respect anyones decision not to come. However, if you are on the fence, this is what I offer to you, from a players perspective–whether you support the thorns alone, any other team in the league, or women’s soccer across the globe, we need you now more than ever.
Seeing our supporters packing the stadium let’s us know that you are bearing this heavy burden WITH us. We ultimately have no choice but to carry the realities with us on the field, but you may have some choice on if you want to be there to bear it with us.
You can view that showing up on game day is an act of solidarity with the women on the field who are time and time again punished for the actions of others. Ask yourself, for this one game, do you love and support the players more than you hate a front office? I understand it is a nuanced and complex situation–some folks are reliving past trauma, some don’t feel safe. To be clear, I’m not arguing that if you don’t come, you don’t love the players–everyone is ultimately going to do what is best for them physically and mentally, and I will be at peace with what anyone decides to do. But if you are on the fence–from a player…we’d love to have one last party at Providence Park in a few weeks, and we want you there. Because the club belongs to us. #BAONPDX