Merritt Paulson Steps Down as CEO of the Portland Thorns and Timbers

The announcement follows a scathing report that detailed cover-ups of abuse within Thorns club and across the NWSL.

By Sam Stites October 11, 2022

Players from the Portland Thorns and visiting Houston Dash observe a moment of solidarity and silence during their game on October 6, 2021, in the sixth minute, in honor of former Thorn Mana Shim’s jersey number, less than a week after an article in the Athletic detailed allegations by Shim and another former Thorn, Sinead Farrelly, of sexual coercion by a former Thorns coach.

Merritt Paulson announced Tuesday he is stepping down as CEO of the Portland Timbers and Thorns effective immediately.  

Paulson faced mounting pressure in recent weeks to step away from the clubs following the release of a scathing report which detailed rampant abuse and sexual misconduct across the National Women’s Soccer League, including within the Thorns organization.  

In a statement released Tuesday morning, Paulson apologized to players, fans, and the public for the club’s handling of the 2015 investigation into misconduct by former coach Paul Riley which included sexual coercion and abuse.  

“I apologize to our players, the organization, and the Portland community for the mistakes we made, including not being publicly transparent about Paul Riley’s termination,” Paulson wrote. “It is devastating to me that my goal of creating the shining example of what a women’s sports team could be, has now become synonymous with abhorrent and predatory behavior.” 

Paulson removed himself from decision-making regarding the Thorns club following a bombshell story last year detailing allegations against Riley by Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly.  

The announcement follows the removal last week of Gavin Wilkinson, former general manager, and Mike Golub, former president of business, from the organization’s leadership.  

Paulson’s statement made no mention of whether he intends to keep his stake in the Timbers and Thorns, which he has owned since 2007 and 2012, respectively. He did, however, say that his role in the future of the organization is unclear.  

“Given the complexities involved on several levels, finalizing the correct path forward will take time. I love this organization as if it was part of my family, and to me, what is most important is getting it right,” he wrote. 

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