The following is a post by Matt Cleinman.
It’s now been a month since Meg Linehan’s article about Paul Riley’s abuse has rocked the NWSL community — and especially the Thorns. As a long-time supporter of the Thorns, those first few days were really difficult. Hearing the news was one of those “time stops” moments. Disbelief. Tears. Unable to focus on anything else. More crying. Holding tightly to every update that trickled out over those first couple days. And then thinking about how I’m a man, and how this news is hitting even closer and harder for many women and non-binary supporters.
A few weeks later, there are still aspects that make me sick. My stomach knots up each time that I remember Paul Riley traded for specific players he had coached for years. And while I’m incredibly awed by the strength and courage that Mana, Sinead, and Kaiya have shown in coming forward to transform our league, I still cry every time I consider that there are likely more victims out there. More than anger, though, these days I’m mostly disappointed and worried.
Disappointed: The Thorns leadership still has not shown that they understand why their response in 2015 — or 2021 — is completely inadequate to many of us, how it fully misses the mark. Merritt Paulson’s kind tweets to Paul Riley over the past few years are infuriating: They are overtures to an old friend, not the words of someone who is irate at someone who abused his employees. (Further anger-inducing: The day the article was released, as I was sobbing, Merritt’s priority was deleting these old tweets.) Merritt’s recent open letter reads extremely false, especially when compared to his kind pre-article tweets. It seems like he’s trying to save face now that his dirty secret is out. Leadership and attitude starts at the top. If Merritt doesn’t understand, it’s hard to think that his deputies will.
Worried: I’m worried that the changes being promised won’t be enough to transform our team and our league into a place where our players can feel safe and supported. Every day that Gavin Wilkinson remains employed makes me worried that real change isn’t coming. The fact that he is still actively working for the Timbers makes no sense, and it betrays the lack of concern this organization has about his conduct. If you’re worried enough to put him on leave from Thorns duties, why aren’t you worried enough to remove him from his Timbers duties? Why are Timbers players safe with him, but Thorns players are not? It seems like you’re setting up to clear him after a cursory investigation.
(Update: Karina LeBlanc has been hired as the general manager of the Thorns. She is extraordinarily qualified, and I look forward to her return to Portland. However, this underscores that the Front Office’s process has been a sham. After weeks of insisting that they were waiting for a complete investigation before making any decisions, they reverse themselves and hire KK. It’s almost as if it’s not about the investigation, but instead about other factors.)
I bought season tickets before our inaugural season kicked off, and I have been a dedicated Thorns supporter ever since. I’ve traveled to most of our postseason games, even when it seriously stretched my budget — and saw our team lift the trophy in both 2013 and 2017. In two weeks, we have a semifinal game at home. But I can’t bring myself to purchase a ticket from the Thorns organization. There is one other thing that presently gives me a pit in my stomach: The thought of sending more of my money to this team’s owners and leadership.