An open letter from Merritt Paulson

The safety and well-being of our players – physically, emotionally and psychologically – has always been and will remain our top priority. Given my personal commitment to women’s football and building one of the best teams in the world, I speak on behalf of our entire organization by saying that we are reeling and devastated by the abuse that Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly endured during playing for the Portland Thorns under former coach Paul Riley.

We applaud not only their courage to come forward, but also their determination to be heard. It shouldn’t have been this difficult, nor should it have taken so long, with a great personal and professional toll on the survivors.

As a team, organization and as individuals, we at the Portland Thorns have zero tolerance for harassment or discrimination of any kind. Within hours of receiving a complaint against our then-coach six years ago from Mana—the first and only one we’ve ever received from anyone—we: (1) Immediately suspended Coach Riley; (2) launched an investigation into the claims that led to its termination within days; and (3) shared everything we learned in the survey with the NWSL.

But we then made an opaque announcement about not renewing Riley’s contract rather than explicitly announcing his termination, guided by what we thought was the right thing to do at the time out of respect for players’ privacy. I deeply regret our role in what is clearly a systemic failure in women’s professional football.

Let me state unequivocally that as a team owner and we as an organization, I reject the culture of silence that may have led to additional victimization by a predatory coach, whose actions we strongly condemn.

In the end we could have done more, which is particularly hard to say as the team we have held as the highest standard in professional women’s football in the world. I apologize to Mana, Sinead and everyone else who has been hurt by this. I welcome the investigations that will follow. I welcome this moment for positive change in both our own organization and the NWSL, and fully intend to drive it. It should have come sooner, but it has to come.

What are we as an organization doing now?

We stand behind Mana, Sinead, our team – including all players past and present – ​​and with our fans and community. I am still beyond proud of the Portland Thorns and what we have accomplished. But it can and must be better.

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