The National Women’s Soccer League Players Association released a statement Thursday in the wake of a bombshell investigation into the NWSL.
The statement comes after a frustrating 72 hours for the NWSL in which the results from an independent investigation by former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Q. Yates and law firm King & Spalding revealed emotional abuse and sexual misconduct across multiple teams, coaches and players within the sport.
The NWSLPA wrote in its statement that “outrage is justified” in response to the investigation’s findings and that the players have chosen to focus their outrage on identifying “everything and everyone” that failed them with hopes of developing ways to prevent the behavior from repeating itself.
The statement comes a day after the Thorns and Timbers dismissed two high-ranking executives, Thorns president of soccer and general manager Gavin Wilkinson and president of business Mike Golub for their involvement in enabling a toxic work environment.
The news of Wilkinson and Golub came shortly after Thorns owner Merritt Paulson stepped down on Tuesday due to his reported role in the concealed accounts of sexual abuse and coercion involving former Portland coach Paul Riley, who was fired by the NWSL’s Courage in September 2021 in response to the allegations. Golub had worked in an executive role with the Timbers since ’09 and for the Thorns since the club started in ’13.
Wilkinson, who played and coached for the Timbers when the franchise competed in the USL, became the general manager when Portland made its move to the MLS in 2011. He also worked in the same exact role for the Timbers until late 2021 before he was put on administrative leave and later replaced by current GM Karina LeBlanc as Riley’s prior wrongdoings surfaced publicly.
The independent investigation, authorized by the U.S. Soccer Federation, began when previous Thorns players—Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim—shared in September 2021 their stories from Riley’s time with the Timbers, from ’14 to ‘15 . According to the investigation, Paulson and Wilkinson supported Riley despite the allegations surrounding him. Wilkinson reportedly blamed Shim for “putting Riley in a bad position” in a conversation with the Western New York Flash on the ex-coach’s behalf and noted he would “hire [Riley] in a heartbeat.”
The Yates report also found that Golub made an unsuitable sexual comment to former Thorns coach and current U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone. In August 2021, Golub was accused of forming a “toxic” workplace environment that reportedly included “lewd comments toward female employees and inappropriate physical contact,” according to The Oregonian.
While the NWSLPA says that report’s findings are “disturbing” in nature, the group believes the “NWSL should determine whether discipline is warranted in light of both the Yates report findings and the findings of the joint investigation,” the statement read.
The joint investigation serves as a “vehicle” for creating a “clear, accurate and evidence-based” set of recommendations to NWSL with the fundamental goal to “protect players now and in the future.”
The players association also stated that it was a “strategic benefit” in having two separate investigations. Per the Yates report, among the “inhibitors” to U.S. Soccer’s investigation was the non-cooperation of Portland, Chicago and Louisville. The NWSLPA believes “what individuals” in the respective clubs “knew and when is crucial to having a complete understanding” of what and who failed the group.
“Our pending joint investigation give those clubs—and all others with relevant information-the opportunity to produce that information immediately, enabling us to marshal facts that U.S. Soccer investigation could not,” the statement read. “These clubs must answer to the Players through the joint investigation, where the Players Association has both an oversight role and the independence to call it like we see it.”
As the players await the conclusion of the joint investigation to understand the recommendations, the players association stated that it is not settling for “short-term solutions” despite the process being difficult.
“This is an opportunity to create a better future for all who come behind us,” the statement read. “We must get it right. Until then, we will relentlessly seek the truth to leave no stone unturned. The Players deserve at least that much.”
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