The National Women’s Soccer League Players Association released a statement Thursday following a bombshell investigation into the NWSL.
The statement comes after a frustrating 72 hours for the NWSL in which results from an independent investigation by former U.S. Attorney General Sally Q. Yates and the law firm King & Spalding revealed emotional and sexual abuse at multiple teams, coaches and players within the sport.
The NWSLPA wrote in a statement that “The outrage is justified” in response to the research findings and that players chose to focus their anger on identifying “everything and everyone” that failed them in hopes of developing ways to prevent the behavior from happening again.
The statement comes a day after the Thorns and Timbers fired two senior executives, Thorns president of football and general manager Gavin Wilkinson and president of operations Mike Golub for their part in creating a toxic work environment.
The news of Wilkinson and Golub came shortly after Thorns owner Merritt Paulson resigned Tuesday over his reported role in the undercover sexual abuse and coercion reports involving former Portland coach Paul Riley, who was fired by the Courage NWSL in September 2021 in response. to the allegations. Golub had worked in an executive role with the Timbers since ’09 and with the Thorns since the club’s inception in ’13.
Wilkinson, who played and coached for the Timbers when the franchise played in the USL, became general manager when Portland moved to MLS in 2011. He also worked in the exact same role for the Timbers until the end of 2021 before being placed on administrative leave and was later replaced by current GM Karina LeBlanc as Riley’s past wrongdoings became public.
The independent investigation, commissioned by U.S. Soccer, began when former Thorns players — Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim — shared in September 2021 their stories from Riley’s time with the Timbers, from ’14 to in ’15. According to the investigation, Paulson and Wilkinson supported Riley despite the accusations surrounding him. Wilkinson reportedly accused Sim of “putting Riley in a bad spot” in a conversation with the Western New York Flash on behalf of the former coach and noted that he would “hire [Riley] straight.”
Yates’ report also found that Golub made an inappropriate sexual comment to former Thorns coach and current US Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone. In August 2021, Golub was accused of creating a “toxic” work environment that allegedly included “lewd comments toward female employees and inappropriate physical contact,” according to The Oregonian.
While the NWSLPA says the report’s findings are “annoying” nature, the team believes “the NWSL should determine whether discipline is warranted on both the findings of the Yates report and the findings of the joint investigation,” the statement said.
Joint research serves as a “vehicle” for creating a “clear, accurate and evidence-based” set of recommendations in the NWSL with the fundamental goal of “protecting players now and in the future.”
The players’ union also said it was a “strategic benefit” to conduct two separate investigations. According to the Yates report, among the “blockers” to US Soccer’s investigation was the non-cooperation of Portland, Chicago and Louisville. The NWSLPA believes that “what individuals knew and when” in the respective clubs is vital to a full understanding” of what and who failed in the group.
“Our pending joint investigation gives these clubs – and anyone else with relevant information – the opportunity to produce that information immediately, allowing us to capture facts that US Soccer’s investigation could not,” the statement said. “These clubs must answer to the Players through the joint inquiry, where the Footballers’ Association has both an oversight role and the independence to call it what we see.”
As players await the completion of the joint inquiry to understand the recommendations, the players’ association said it would not settle for “short-term solutions” even though the process is difficult.
“This is an opportunity to create a better future for everyone behind us,” the statement said. “We have to do it right. Until then, we will relentlessly seek the truth to leave no stone unturned. The players deserve at least that much.”
More football coverage: