The Portland Thorns have fired a pair of team executives in the wake of an investigation into misconduct in the National Women’s Soccer League.
The Taverns’ move came a day after owner Merritt Paulson removed himself from a decision-making role with the team on Wednesday.
Chicago Red Stars owner Arnhem Whistler also stepped down from his role.
Meanwhile, Racing Louisville president James O’Connor apologized to fans and a former player who faced sexual assault allegations.
Former US acting attorney general Sally Q. Yates and the King & Spaulding law firm released the results of their investigation on Monday detailing “systemic” abuse and misconduct in women’s soccer. USA Soccer retained Yates when a series of scandals rocked the league last year.
Five of the NWSL’s 10 coaches were either fired or fired over misconduct allegations last season. Among them was former Thorns and North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley, who was accused of sexual harassment and assault a decade ago by former players Manna Shem and Sinead Farrelly. Riley has denied the allegations.
The Yates report focused on three former coaches: Riley, Louisville’s Christy Holley and Chicago’s Rory Deams. Not only did the investigation find misconduct by all three, but it also said their teams did not fully cooperate.
Thorns executives Gavin Wilkinson and Mike Golub were both fired Wednesday. Both were also fired from Paulson’s other team, Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers.
Riley coached the Thorns in 2014 and 2015. His alleged misconduct was investigated by the team, which did not decide to renew his contract, but did not publicly disclose the reason for the decision.
Yates wrote that Thorns management “interfered with our access to relevant witnesses and raised specific legal arguments in an attempt to obstruct our use of relevant documents.” The investigation also found inappropriate workplace comments made by team executives.
Riley went on to coach the Western New York Flashes, which later became the North Carolina Adventure. Riley was with the Braves until September 2021 when allegations of misconduct at Athletic surfaced.
The Courage said in a statement that the team is committed to player safety and will take appropriate action on the recommendations in the report.
“North Carolina Courage stands in full support of players affected by misconduct in our league. We accept our responsibility to continually examine our organization and our role in systemic problems in our sport, such as Yates’s. The report stated,” the statement said. “The details and incidents are deeply disturbing, and action must be taken to ensure these types of incidents are never allowed to happen again.”
Dames, the former coach of the Red Stars, claims he verbally abused players and created a hostile environment to work in. He resigned at the end of last season.
Whistler has announced that he is stepping down from a governance role on the NWSL board and handing over control of the franchise to an executive team.
“The past few months have been a time of deep humility, sadness and reflection for me. I have always tried to ensure that everyone employed in our environment is of high character and shares our positive values. But we are not always successful. For that, I’m sorry,” Whistler said in a statement.
The investigative report also noted an April 2021 encounter between then-Louisville coach Hawley and Erin Simon, a player who now plays in Europe. Holly invited her to watch game film with him and allegedly told her that for every pass she disrupted, he would touch her. Simon told investigators that Holly “put his hands down her pants and up her shirt.”
The club fired Hawley last season for cause after investigating allegations against him.
“We commend Erin for her courage in coming forward as part of the U.S. Soccer investigation. And while our former coach was alerted to the conduct within 24 hours, we understand that It wasn’t enough and we failed our locker room by creating a place where this behavior could happen,” O’Connor said in a statement. Wednesday.
He added: “We are not the club we were in August 2021. We now owe it to our players and the community to prove that.”
The NWSL and its players’ union are also investigating alleged misconduct in the league.