Why I Expected Better From Portland Thorns Leadership

I have lived in Oregon for 21 years. One of the things that drew me to Portland was the progressive and caring ways that, as a city, we have. I love the inclusive and compassionate environment and the outspoken voice against injustice we have earned a name for across the world. 

So, needless to say, that not only am I angry, sad, and frustrated with the report about the NWSL’s mishandlings of abuse and sexual harassment by former Thorns’ coach Paul Riley but I’m in shock. 

Yes, I know bad things happen everywhere, but call me naive, but I thought that we did better than that in Portland.

In the last nine days, the Portland Thorns have made headlines not because of goals, records, or the well-known community profile we are known for. But because sadly, like many others, we have failed to protect female athletes in their workplace.

We know the NWSL has significant issues when it comes to this. How can we ignore that Paul Riley makes the fourth highly decorated coach fired for alleged sexual misconduct, bullying, verbal abuse, sexual orientation jokes/comments, toxic work environment, and racist remarks? 

To bring you up to date, here is the timeline in the last nine days:

9/30 Meg Linehan and Katie Strang with the Athletic publish a report about sexual coercion, sharing the stories of soccer players Sinead Farrelly and Meleana “Mana” Shim.

9/30 US Soccer suspends Paul Riley’s coaching license

9/30  North Carolina Courage fires Paul Riley

10/1 NWSLPA issues a statement in support of players Sinead Farrelly, Meleana Shim, and Kaiya McCullough

10/1 Former National Women’s Soccer League commissioner Lisa Baird resigns position in the U.S. Soccer board of directors.

10/1 Thorns’ games are canceled.

10/2 Portland Timbers’ statement of support 

10/2 Portland Thorns supporters rally in support of Thorns and NWSL players outside Providence Park.

10/4 – Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson apologizes and orders an independent investigation.

10/5 Rose City Riveters, the Timbers Army, and the 107IST’s Statement of support to NWSL players and boycott against Providence Park and PTFC. 

10/6 Portland Thorns FC placed general manager/president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson on administrative leave. But he continues with his Timbers’ duties. 

10/6 NWSL Female Soccer Players in Pennsylvania pause in support of victims of Paul Riley

10/7 Six minutes of protest in a symbol of the seven years former female soccer players waited to report the abuse by Paul Riley.

Support for all of the victims of abuse during their time at the NWSL has been strong and consistent from current and former players in the league as well as women’s organizations across the world.

Amid protests worldwide, the hashtag  #nomoresilent is active in all social media platforms in support of the female players affected by the abuse subjected by coaches and officials at the NWSL.

As you can see, this has been a lot to take so far. Every time I see new development, I feel more and more frustrated and angry at the normalcy that this has been taken for years. But again, I did not expect this from Portland.

I am one of those annoying Portlanders that continuously stands up and reminds people that here in Portland, we do not sit back and watch bad things happen.

No, we are not perfect, but we are not silent if we see it. With that said, I am in shock that the Thorns’ owner and leadership did so little for the women that trusted them with their lives, yes, their lives the moment they became part of the Thorns Club.

Yes, I know there are investigations. Yes, I know there are suspensions, firings, and resignations, but not one of those things will give these women their lives as they knew it back. If anything, this whole process is another way of victimization.

They waited seven years to report the incidents. And to the everyday man and even some women, this causes doubt. But in reality, there is nothing to doubt. What there is to learn here is that these players have been carrying this pain for years now. They have had to stand up in public forums and praise the club that turned a blind eye to the abuse.

Whenever I hear a story like this, I wonder why people ignore the signs of abuse. Why did Merrit Paulson, Gavin Wilkinson decide it was not worth their time to address it? It sounds far-reaching, but we all know they knew.

The fact is that the culture of sexual harassment and abuse is the big elephant in the room that everyone knows is there but chooses not to talk about. Leaving victims alone in the middle of organizations that they know will not have their back. 

Seven years is, in fact, not that long to come to accept that it is time to report the abuse. It is reasonable considering the mental and emotional damage it has caused. 

These players have been failed by the Thorns, the NWSL, by their peers, and by all of those who knew but didn’t want to be the one to bring it up.

As I said before, I expected more from the Thorns. I expected more from the team that game after game says they are all about their players and consider them as if they were family. To be honest with you, if this is their concept of family, I instead treat them as employees. 

So the question now is, what is next? How will they protect these women on and off the field? Who is going to lead the change? How will they hold themselves accountable? When will authorities get involved? What kind of penalties will US Soccer and NWSL organizations impose on the franchise and abusers for each of the fails? 

But the question that doesn’t let me think straight is the hard and scary one. How can this be fixed? 

How long until no more victims and leadership are covering up for the abuser? 

What if more players come forward? What will we do when it happens again? Can anyone guarantee it won’t?

Dramatic questions? Not so much. Sadly enough, they are the reality.

I believe the Portland Thorns and Timbers have said all the right things, but the question is, what will they do to keep our female athletes safe. 

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About Miriam B. Dye 57 Articles
Miriam B. Dye has been watching her father root for his teams from the day she was born. It is from him that she learned the amazing world of sports. Miriam is a native of Mexico City, but after having lived for almost three decades in the USA she calls Portland home. Miriam is a mother to Tiara- a college student, James - a senior in high school and Nyah- a first grader. A business development and marketing professional, she loves traveling, photography and global cuisine. If she is not writing, in the kitchen cooking with her children or traveling, you can find her bungee cord jumping or art gallery hopping with her husband Steve. She loves sports, writing and values the opportunity to reach OSN's readers every chance she can.