Merritt Paulson releases statement addressing Thorns investigation

Author: KGW Staff

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — Portland Thorns FC owner and CEO Merritt Paulson has issued a statement in response to Monday’s report on an investigation into allegations of abuse in the National Women’s Soccer League, of which the Thorns were a primary focus after two former players accused former coach Paul Riley of sexual coercion.

The statement is Paulson’s first public comment since the release of the report, which said the Thorns interfered with the investigation and also revealed inappropriate comments by Paulson, team president Mike Golub and former general manager Gavin Wilkinson.

Paulson said he would remove himself from “all Thorns-related decision making” effective immediately and turn over decision-making to Thorns general counsel Heather Davis, and that Thorns Wilkinson and Golub would also step back.

He said the team’s leadership has promised NWSL that it will not make further public statements about the investigation until it is complete in November, but added that Monday was “the darkest day I have ever experienced” and was likely “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,” he wrote. “I am truly sorry.”

U.S. Soccer commissioned the investigation from a team of lawyers led by former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates after The Athletic published a 2021 story in which former Thorns players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim raised allegations of harassment and sexual coercion involving former coach Paul Riley.

Yates wrote in the Monday report that the Thorns interfered with investigators’ access to witnesses and attempted to impede her team’s use of documents, including a report from the team’s own 2015 investigation into Riley.

Paulson’s full statement is below:

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.

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