PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — On Thursday morning, former Portland Thorns CEO and owner Merritt Paulson announced the decision to sell the Portland Thorns FC amid a sexual misconduct scandal.
“The past year has been a challenging one for our Club and our players,” Paulson said in the release. “I regret the role our organization played in the failures identified by the investigations. Despite these challenges, the Portland Thorns have a bright future ahead and a lot left to accomplish.”
In September 2021, former Portland Thorns athletes Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim accused Paul Riley of sexual harassment and coercion. Riley, who served as Thorns head coach during the 2014-2015 season, denied the allegations. He was then fired from his coaching position with the North Carolina Courage.
In September 2022, AP News reported that former Thorns owner told the National Women’s Soccer League and U.S. Soccer about Riley’s alleged misconduct after being dismissed from this team, but Paulson failed to make the information public.
In October 2022, an investigation commissioned by U.S. Soccer revealed widespread issues of emotional abuse and sexual misconduct that affected several teams and their staff.
Shortly afterward, Paulson stepped down as the CEO of the Portland Timbers and the Portland Thorns. His recent announcement states that the Thorns are looking for new ownership, but his decision will not affect the Timbers.
“An ownership change with the Thorns will not impact Peregrine Sports’ ownership of the Timbers, and we will be a key partner to the new Thorns ownership group, as we believe the team should continue to call Providence Park its home,” Paulson said.
According to the release, he will make a $1 million pledge to establish a Player Safety Office for the NWSL.
He added, “…I believe it is in best interest of the Thorns to have a new owner so that the Club can operate at the league level with a fresh voice to be a driving force for the NWSL. This has been a difficult decision for me, but I believe this is the best way to position the Thorns for continued success during this next chapter of the NWSL and the sport.”
Gabby Rosas with the Thorns and Timbers supporter’s trust saying while they want to see Paulson sell both teams, they’re optimistic about what new ownership could bring.
“I think that’s what Thorns fans have really struggled with over the last 10 years is you know, that the Thorns have always felt like second fiddle,” Rosas said. “Hopefully there can be an investment group and an ownership group that really wants to put the Thorns first. I’ve never really gotten the feeling from Peregrine Sports that the thorns came first.”
Voices across the soccer world have also chimed in about Paulson’s decision.
Jessica Berman, National Women’s Soccer League Commissioner, shared this statement:
I support Merritt Paulson’s decision to sell the Thorns, his commitment to aid in a smooth transition for a new ownership group in Portland, and the $1M contribution to the league. This money will be used to launch a new NWSL Player Safety Department – coming out of this chapter in the NWSL’s history we will emerge stronger than ever before and make this a league the players are proud to play in. The Thorns, its players, its dedicated fanbase and the entire Portland community have played a key role in our league’s first decade and are critically important to the future success of the NWSL. We will continue to work collaboratively to ensure the players and the club have everything they need to be successful on and off the pitch.
Don Garber, Major League Soccer Commissioner, shared this statement:
For more than a decade Merritt Paulson and the Timbers have played an important role in the growth of Major League Soccer. He was also instrumental in the launch of the NWSL, and the Thorns have achieved great success in many ways during the past decade. As the Thorns transition to a new ownership group, they will undoubtedly continue to have a significant impact on Portland, the NWSL, women’s sports and soccer in North America. At the same time, I am confident the Timbers will continue to be a successful MLS club in the years ahead.