Following allegations of sexual assault against ex-Portland Thorns coach Paul Rile, Thorns and Timbers owner Merritt Paulson announced his departure as CEO of both soccer teams on Tuesday.
Paulson removed himself from day-to-day decision-making after news of the allegations broke. He acknowledged in a statement Tuesday that his previous decision fell short of what was needed.
"I feel that another step is necessary," Paulson wrote. "Effective immediately, I am removing myself as CEO of the Portland Thorns and Portland Timbers, and announcing a global search for a CEO of the organization."
He will maintain ownership stake in both teams.
This is the latest development in the wake of a massive investigative report from former federal prosecutor Sally Yates, commissioned by U.S Soccer. The report concluded that Paulson and then-Thorns general manager Gavin Wilkinson were fully aware of and actively concealed sexual misconduct allegations against Riley in 2015. The report outlines how on Sept. 16, 2015, Paulson and Wilkinson were direct recipients of an email from a player who detailed Riley's allegedly persistent and unwanted advances, retaliation when he was asked to stop, as well as a specific incident involving another player.
While the Thorns terminated Riley's contract seven days later, the report detailed that the club concealed the true nature of the allegations. Riley's departure was announced as the non-renewal of a contract. When Riley later received a positive job referral from Wilkinson for a managerial opening with the Western New York Flash in 2016, Paulson was quoted in the report as saying "Congrats on the Riley hire. I have a lot of affection for him."
Paulson and Wilkinson were two of several allegedly complicit persons named in the investigation.
Riley continued to coach in the USWL for six years after the allegations with the Flash and North Carolina Courage. He has denied the allegations against him as "completely untrue," writing "I have never had sex with, or made sexual advances towards these players" in an email to the Athletic.
Portland Thorns have been active in response to Yates report
The day after the disturbing independent investigation findings of misconduct and abuse were released on Oct. 5, the Thorns announced that Wilkinson and president of business Mike Golub had both been fired. Paulson released a statement that he was removing himself "from all Thorns decision making" the same day.
Minutes before Paulson's statement was released, Thorns defender and USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn addressed the media and expressed her wish that every alleged complicit owner, executive and U.S. Soccer official be removed.
"For so long, this has always fallen on the player to demand change, and that is because the people in authority and decision-making positions have repeatedly failed to protect us and they have failed to hold themselves and each other accountable," Sauerbrunn said.
General counsel Heather Davis and Sarah Keane — Davis’ chief operating officer appointee — will fill in for Paulson and lead the search for his replacement.
These decisions come as fans, sponsors and players demand more action from the club. A group of devout fans organized to publish a social media statement declaring Paulson's title change "as not enough" until he no longer has a financial stake in both teams.
Club sponsors Tillamook Country Creamery Association, Union Wine Company and Alaska Airlines all announced they were discontinuing their Thorns sponsorship. For all aforementioned sponsors, reconsideration of those decisions relies on "meaningful, institutional changes" from the Thorns.
It remains unclear what next steps will be taken as ripples from the Yates report continue.