Portland fires two execs after report details ‘systemic’ abuse of players in US women’s soccer

A year-long investigation found U.S. Soccer executives, N.W.S.L. owners and coaches at all levels of American soccer had turned a blind eye toward years of reports of abuse from players.

Portland Thorns fans hold signs during the first half of the team’s NWSL soccer match against the Houston Dash in Portland, Ore., Wednesday. An independent investigation into the scandals that erupted in the National Women’s Soccer League last season found emotional abuse and sexual misconduct were systemic in the sport.

Portland Thorns fans hold signs during the first half of the team’s NWSL soccer match against the Houston Dash in Portland, Ore., Wednesday. An independent investigation into the scandals that erupted in the National Women’s Soccer League last season found emotional abuse and sexual misconduct were systemic in the sport. | Photo Credit: AP

A year-long investigation found U.S. Soccer executives, N.W.S.L. owners and coaches at all levels of American soccer had turned a blind eye toward years of reports of abuse from players.

The Portland Timbers and Thorns on Wednesday sacked two executives named in the devastating report, which detailed systemic abuse in US women's soccer.

In a statement, Portland said president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson and president of business operations Mike Golub had both been relieved of their duties.

The decision came a day after owner Merritt Paulson announced he was stepping away from decision-making duties in the wake of the report released on Monday.

Both Wilkinson and Golub had featured prominently in the findings of the report into abuse in women's soccer headed by former US Attorney General Sally Yates.

The report said Wilkinson had effectively concealed allegations of sexual harassment made against former Thorns head coach Paul Riley.

Thorns player Mana Shim alerted Wilkinson and owner Paulson to Riley's repeated sexual harassment in a September 2015 email.

Riley was fired by the NWSL club soon after the email. But Wilkinson made no mention of the harassment allegations against Riley when the New York Flash contacted Portland to seek a reference shortly afterwards.

Riley went on to coach New York, who subsequently rebranded as the North Carolina Courage after relocating, until being fired last September after allegations against the coach were revealed in US media reports.

Golub, meanwhile, also faced allegations of misconduct.

The Yates report recounted an episode in 2013 involving Cindy Parlow Cone, who was then the coach of the Thorns and is now the president of the US Soccer Federation.

Parlow Cone reported that Golub asked her: "What's on your bucket list besides sleeping with me?".

Reports in The Oregonian newspaper have also detailed a "toxic" work environment overseen by Golub that left many female employees feeling uncomfortable or inclined to leave.

Wilkinson and Golub's dismissals come after US national team captain Becky Sauerbrunn on Tuesday called for the dismissal of any NWSL or US Soccer official found to have facilitated abuse or misconduct.

"Every owner and executive and US soccer official who has repeatedly failed the players and failed to protect the players who have hidden behind legalities and have not participated fully in these investigations should be gone," Sauerbrunn said during a press conference in London.

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