Merritt Paulson, owner of the National Women’s League (NWSL) Portland Thorns and Major League Soccer (MLS) Portland Timbers, will not travel to Washington, DC, for Saturday’s NWSL championship between the Thorns and Kansas City Current, the team announced in a statement.
Paulson is under pressure to sell both teams, and the CEO of both the Spins and the Timbers resigned on October 11 following the publication of the Yates Report, which found systemic sexual and emotional abuse of players in the NWSL.
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A report into multiple instances of managers entering into abuse of players has found that some executives ignored complaints made by players or hid reasons for firing coaches. This includes allegations against Thomas’ former manager, Paul Leo, as well as Paulson’s role in concealing the cause of Leo’s firing, which allowed the coach to continue working in the NWSL.
“Merritt leads Portland Thorns in another NWSL Championship game,” it read. “Recent changes have been implemented in the order” [Paulson] CBS will keep the animals away. “
The statement added that interim CEO Heather Davis, interim COO Sarah Keane and GM Karina LeBlanc will take ownership in Washington “as the Thorns hope to win their third league title in 10 years.”
The statement continued: “As Merritt has communicated with the team and organization, he is committed to ensuring the long-term health and success of the Portland Thorns.”
It is not known if Paulson attended Sunday’s 2-1 semifinal victory over the San Diego Wave. Paulson was not seen in his entourage, and when ESPN asked several Thorns staffers if he was present, they said they did not know.
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Leo was fired by the Spins in 2015 following a complaint filed by former Spins player Mana Shim alleging sexual harassment and coercion.
During the scandal, Paulson sought to set his mistakes aside as one mistake in 2015, where the club kept the real reason for Leo’s public issue, instead stating that Leo’s contract was not renewed for reasons on the field.
In a letter announcing his resignation as CEO, Paulson wrote that he vowed to “make what happened in 2015 never happen again,” adding that mistakes included “not being publicly transparent about Paul Leo’s termination.”
But Yates cites Paulson’s report that he received complaints from players alleging that Leo was abusive and ignored them in 2014, a year before Shim’s complaint resulted in Leo’s termination.
The records obtained by Yates also show that Paulson holds the exit clause from other team owners and that Shim brought the allegations as late as 2019, in exchange for expressing support for Leo, which allowed the coach to remain in the NWSL. Paulson is also accused of making inappropriate comments to the player.
With some fans urging Paulson to sell both parties, and with sponsors such as Alaska Airlines redirecting sponsorship dollars away from the organization, Paulson fired two top executives — soccer president Gavin Wilkinson and business president Mike Golub — before resigning as CEO.