Among the findings of an independent investigation into the Women’s National Football League released Monday, Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson is one of the league’s figures who has helped enable systemic emotional abuse and sexual misconduct.
According to the report, which was led by former acting US Attorney Sally Q. Yates and the law firm King & Spalding, Paulson helped cover up accounts of sexual abuse and coercion regarding former Thorns coach Paul Riley, who was fired by North Carolina State. Courage in September 2021 when the news broke.
On Tuesday, Paulson announced that he would be stepping back from the Thorns organization following the NWSL report.
“The unveiling of the Yates report yesterday was my darkest day, and I know the same goes for anyone else who loves our team and our league,” Paulson said. “I imagine it was even more difficult and darker for those whose stories were shared publicly. … I cannot apologize enough for our role in an overall failure to protect player safety and the mistake we made in 2015. I am truly sorry.
“As Thorns are about to enter the NWSL playoffs, I have told NWSL that I will be removing myself in effect today from all decision-making relating to Thorns until the joint investigation, with which we are fully cooperating, is launched.”
Thorns are owned by the same company that owns Portland Timbers of MLS and Peregrine Sports LLC, and the Timbers franchise has also been affected by fallout from Monday’s report. Timbers General Manager Gavin Wilkinson and Timbers/Thorns Executive Mike Golub will be stepping away from the organizations at this time.
Paulson said the property group will not make a statement or speak to the media about the investigation led by Yates until the joint investigation by the NFL and its players union is completed next month. In Paulson’s statement, he left the door open for his return to The Thorns after the joint investigation report was released.
Thorns player Becky Sauerbrunn spoke to the media on Tuesday in the wake of the report and said she believed any owner implicated in the consequences of systematic emotional abuse and sexual misconduct should step down.
“It is my opinion that every owner, executive and American football official who has repeatedly failed players and failed to protect players, who hid behind the legal aspects and were not involved in these investigations, should go,” Sauerbrunn said. Across Equalizer.
Sauerbrunn is just one of many players who have spoken out since Monday’s report.
Paulson’s announcement comes just hours after a group of Thorns supporters called on the property group to step down from its roles.
More football coverage: