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Portland Thorns, Chicago Red Stars Owners Step Away After Report

  • Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson announces decision a day after release of independent report.
  • Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler says he will "relinquish operational control.
Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY Sports
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Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson said in a statement that he’s removed himself, as well as two executives, from decision-making duties, a day after an independent report was released detailing gruesome allegations of harassment and sexual misconduct National Women’s Soccer League players have endured. 

Hours later Tuesday, Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler announced he would “immediately” relinquish operational control of the NSWL franchise.

The announcements came after calls for Paulson — who also owns the MLS’s Portland Timbers — and Whisler to sell their clubs in the aftermath of the release of an independent report commissioned by U.S. Soccer. A separate NWSL and NWSLPA joint investigation is ongoing. 

“The NWSL is supportive of the important steps taken by the Portland Thorns and Chicago Red Stars today,” NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement. “As the League continues to evaluate the Yates report, I want to assure you that we remain committed to implementing reform and disciplinary action.”


Report: NWSL, U.S. Soccer ‘Repeatedly Failed’ to Protect Players

Lengthy independent report details “emotional abuse and sexual misconduct” in NWSL.
October 3, 2022

In the lengthy report from an investigative team led by former United States Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, Paulson along with Thorns GM Gavin Wilkinson vouched for former coach Paul Riley in 2015 — even after the team fired him after receiving information that Riley sexually pursued a player.

“Although the team terminated Riley, it announced publicly that it had elected not to renew his contract and thanked him for his service,” the report stated.

“I know it was even harder and darker for those whose stories were shared publicly,” Paulson said in the statement. “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.”

Riley was ousted as coach of North Carolina Courage in September 2021 after The Athletic reported allegations of harassment, inappropriate advances, and other misconduct. 

President Mike Golub — who like Wilkinson has been sidelined — was accused in the report of making a sexually inappropriate comment in 2013, an incident that was reported to then-Thorns coach and current U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone. According to the report, Cone reprimanded Golub after and, months later, informed Paulson of the incident. 

On Wednesday, the Thorns announced they had fired Wilkinson and Golub.

In the report, Whisler is accused of repeatedly dismissing allegations made against former coach Rory Dames despite being “aware of Dames’s verbal and emotional abuse for decades” both as coach of the the Red Stars and as a youth coach.

“Our organization is committed to rebuilding trust and respect among players and staff towards our league and club, and I recognize that my current presence is a distraction,” Whisler said in a statement. “I do not want to take any of the attention away from the players’ incredible and well earned playoff run.”

Dames was allowed to resign from the Red Stars last year, but the report stated he “continues to own his youth club, the Eclipse Select Soccer Club.”

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