Thorns fires two executives, Racing Louisville president apologizes over NWSL abuse report

The Portland Thorns have fired two team executives following a National Women’s Soccer League misconduct investigation.

The Thorns’ move on Wednesday came a day after owner Merritt Paulson stepped down from a decision-making role with the team.

Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler has also stepped down from his role.

Meanwhile, Racing Louisville president James O’Connor has apologized to fans and a former player who made allegations of sexual abuse.

Former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Q. Yates and law firm King & Spaulding released the results of their investigation on Monday that detail « systemic » abuse and misconduct in women’s soccer. US Soccer retained Yates when a series of scandals rocked the league last year.

Five of the NWSL’s 10 coaches were fired or resigned last season amid misconduct allegations. Among them was former Thorns and North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley, who was accused by former players Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly of sexual coercion and harassment dating back a decade. Riley denied the allegations.

Yates’ report focused on three former coaches: Riley, Christy Holly of Louisville and Rory Dames of Chicago. Not only did the investigation find misconduct by all three, but it also revealed that their teams failed to cooperate fully.

Thorns executives Gavin Wilkinson and Mike Golub were both relieved of their duties on Wednesday. The two were also fired from Paulson’s other team, the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer.

Riley coached the Thorns in 2014 and 2015. His alleged misconduct was investigated by the team, who opted not to renew his contract but did not publicly disclose the reason for the decision.

Yates wrote that Thorns’ management « interfered with our access to relevant witnesses and raised specious legal arguments in an attempt to prevent our use of the relevant documents. » The investigation also uncovered inappropriate workplace comments from team executives.

Riley then coached the Western New York Flash, which later became the North Carolina Courage. Riley was with the Courage until September 2021 when allegations of misconduct were published in The Athletic.

« We must act »

Courage released a statement saying the team is committed to player safety and will take appropriate action on the report’s recommendations.

« The North Carolina Courage fully supports players affected by abusive behavior in our league. We recognize our responsibility to continually review our organization and our role in the systemic issues in our sport, as outlined in the Yates report, » said the communicated. said. « The details and events are deeply troubling, and steps must be taken to ensure these types of events never happen again. »

Dames, a former Red Stars manager, allegedly verbally abused players and created a hostile working environment. He resigned at the end of last season.

Whisler announced that he was stepping down from a governance role on the NWSL’s board of directors and handing control of the franchise over to his management team.

“The past few months have been a time of deep humility, contrition and reflection for me. I have always ensured that all people hired in our environment are of high moral character and share our positive values. But we haven’t always succeeded. this, I’m sorry, » Whisler said in a statement.

The investigative report also chronicled an April 2021 meeting between Holly, then Louisville’s coach, and a player, Erin Simon, who now plays in Europe. Holly invited her to watch the movie of the game with him and allegedly told her that for every pass she missed, he was going to hit her. Simon told investigators that Holly « shoved her hands down his pants and up his shirt. »

“We missed our locker room”

The club dismissed Holly last season for cause after reviewing the allegations made against him.

« We commend Erin for her bravery in coming forward as part of US Soccer’s investigation. And although our former coach was fired within 24 hours of us being alerted to the behavior, we know it did not. not enough and that we failed in our locker room by creating a space where this behavior could occur, » O’Connor said in a statement Wednesday.

He added: « We are no longer the same club we were in August 2021. Now we owe it to our players and our community to prove it. »

The NWSL and its players’ association are also investigating allegations of misconduct in the league.

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