Merritt Paulson: “I apologize to our players, the organization, and the Portland community for the mistakes we made, including not being publicly transparent about Paul Riley’s termination.” (Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Merritt Paulson, the owner of the Portland Thorns and Timbers, who organization was embroiled in a major sexual misconduct scandal that has rocked women’s soccer, said Tuesday he was stepping down as CEO or both teams.
He did not say he would sell either team, which competes in the National Women’s Soccer League and Major League Soccer, respectively.
Paulson also took the blame for what transpired in the Paul Riley affair in which the former Thorns head coach harassed players.
“I apologize to our players, the organization, and the Portland community for the mistakes we made, including not being publicly transparent about Paul Riley’s termination,” Paulson said in a statement. “Our organization’s failures and mistakes were ultimately my responsibility, and my responsibility alone.”
He added: “The Portland Thorns were created to be a beacon of what is possible in women’s sports. A successful team is built on trust, equality and accountability, and today I am holding myself accountable for not doing enough.”
Riley, former Long Island resident, who built a winning at the women’s professional soccer level, was fired from his head coaching position for verbal abuse and severe sexual misconduct.”
Former Thorns players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim were victims of Riley’s alleged sexual manipulations. “He’s a predator,” Shim said last year on the TODAY Show. “He sexually harrassed me. He sexually coerced Sinead. And he took away our careers.”
“I owe Sinead and Mana, the Thorns players and the NWSL my tireless effort to actively make sure what happened in 2015 never happens again,” Paulson said in his statement.
“It is devastating to me that my goal of creating the shining example of what a women’s sports team could be, has now become synonymous with abhorrent and predatory behavior.”
Paulson said that in order for the Thorns to move forward, he has stepped down as CEO of that team and of the Timbers. The clubs will announce a global search for a new CEO.
Heather Davis will remain interim president and interim CEO of the teams,” Paulson added. Sarah Keane, who Davis appointed interim COO, will lead the search for a permanent CEO.
Davis and Keane plan on having Thorns players to meet the final candidates, “so their voices can be heard.”
“Through this process, I have committed to them that I will provide the organization with all necessary resources to ensure both clubs are not only a model of player safety, but the standard by which other organizations are measured,” Paulson said in his statement.
In the statement, Paulson added that the” organization is at a crossroads, and the future is not necessarily a clear path.”
“No matter what happens, ensuring the long-term health and success of the Portland Thorns is critical to me, as I know it is for our players and the community,” he said. Given the complexities involved on several levels, finalizing the correct path forward will take time. I love this organization as if it was part of my family, and to me, what is most important is getting it right.”
1071st, a Portland supporters group that includes fans from both teams, applauded the announcement as “a long overdue step,” but posted a warning on Twitter about Paulson.
“As long as Merritt Paulson is an owner with a financial stake in the club, he is still in a position of power and control,” the Twitter statement read.
“We continue to call for the sale of both teams for the sale, divestment, or removal of interest/control from all professional development, and youtht soccer leagues by Peregrine Sports. We acknowledge that this will likely be a long and complex process.”