Thorns owner Merritt Paulson apologizes for role in ‘systematic failure’

Thorns owner Merritt Paulson apologizes for role in ‘systematic failure’

Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson apologized for the organization’s role in “what is clearly a systematic failure across women’s professional soccer” in an open letter on Monday. The letter was issued in the wake of The Athletic’s reporting into allegations of sexual coercion by former Thorns and North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley, as well as subsequent inaction by NWSL teams and the league office.

Paulson was owner of the Thorns in 2015, when Portland player Mana Shim filed a complaint with the team officials concerning Riley’s behavior. At the time, the team investigated and announced Riley’s contract would not be renewed, but did not publicly state why.

In his letter Monday, Paulson wrote that he and the organization “disavow the culture of silence that may have allowed for additional victimization by a predatory coach, whose actions we forcefully condemn.” The organization has retained outside lawyers, including a female former federal prosecutor, to conduct an independent investigation of its 2015 investigation. The findings will be made public in “summary form,” Paulson wrote.

In Portland, Riley was accused of continuing behavior that spanned multiple leagues and teams since 2010. Sinead Farrelly, who played for Riley with three teams, including the Thorns, said, “I felt under his control.” In one instance, Riley led Farrelly and Shim back to his apartment, where he asked Shim to dance with him and pressured the two teammates to kiss so the team wouldn’t have to run a suicide mile drill that week.

Riley went on to become the coach of the Courage after the Thorns fired him. The Courage fired Riley on Thursday.

Paulson apologized to Shim and Farrelly, “and everyone else who is hurting” as a result of the Thorns not doing more in 2015.

“We applaud not only their bravery in coming forward, but their determination to be heard. It should not have been this hard, nor taken this long, at great personal and professional toll to the survivors,” he wrote.

Paulson concluded the letter with eight steps the Thorns are taking, including the adoption of a confidential and anonymous reporting system for allegations of harassment and discrimination, continued SafeSport training, and a form on the team’s website for fans to provide anonymous feedback and input.

The NWSL announced Sunday it has also retained a law firm to oversee a number of investigations, including reopening the Thorns’ investigation conducted in 2015 following Shim’s complaint.

(Photo: Diego Diaz / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

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