*I want to start off by saying I was lucky enough to cover the Portland Thorns during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. The staff was great, and they let me fulfill a childhood dream of being a “sportswriter” (I use quotes because it was basically for me and the five people who read this blog). Obviously I cannot know what it is like to go through what Sinead Farrelly and Meleana Shim went through. If you have a subscription to The Athletic, Meg Linehan did a fantastic job of reporting on this story. Other platforms have also covered it. I am writing this from the fan perspective, a fan that is fed up with millionaires and billionaires treating athletes and fans like commodities.
My first, and to date, only tattoo is a sports team’s logo. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision with some friends in Australia a long time ago and ran me about $120 AUD at the time. I wouldn’t say I regret it, as the logo also represents the city as a whole. I was thinking about it on one of my walkabouts the other day though, if I were to get another tattoo, what would it be?
At first I thought it for sure would not be another sports logo. Over the last decade or so I have become very disillusioned with professional sports in the US. The greed has come through tenfold, and most owners see their teams as a tax shelter or a way to brag to their friends. They could not care less if the team actually wins (see “Detroit Lions 1 Playoff Win in 64 Years and Counting), so why should I care? Why should I fork over my hard earned money to these billionaires for the right to pay $18 a beer, and watch a team that exists only to extort money from me?
For a longtime the NWSL was my outlet for that. However, the veil began to fall with that too. Stories such as poor training and living conditions began to pop up (the latter included with NWSL contracts), and then a month or so ago allegations of verbal assault came out. Resulting in the coach being fired earlier this week. The worst was yet to come however, and is still continuing to come out, from ex-Thorns players.
While Paul Riley is alleged to have done some of his worst outside the Portland Thorns organization, there is well-documented evidence that he was acting inappropriately, aggressively, and illegally under the terms of Equal Employment Opportunity Employment. Worst of all it seems not only the league, but Thorns (and Timbers) owner Merritt Paulson and General Manager (of the Timbers as well) Gavin Wilkinson knew, and investigated it. Although, despite all this evidence both the Thorns and the NWSL acted as if they had only just heard about it recently. This is woefully and pathetically insufficient, especially from this organization.
Merritt Paulson loves to tout how open-minded and forward-thinking both his organizations are, and loves to run his mouth about it on social media as well. Quite the timing to be accusing others of “conspiracies” eh Merritt? I mean, you investigated Riley, and then released him from his contract, but made sure to have your organization “wish hime well,” and didn’t put out the warning of his toxic and illegal behavior, which led North Carolina Courage (then Western New York) to sign him. Sounds like you “conspired” to cover up somethings.
What’s worse is Paulson and Wilkinson then let the media run wild with rumors that it was players who created a bad environment in the locker room. Except it wasn’t, the player(s) in question was Alex Morgan, who in fact brought the issues to light, and her “thank you” was being hung out to dry by her own organization so they could protect a serial abuser. She would eventually also leave the Thorns.
I have a coworker who I regularly discuss NWSL and Thorns news and happenings with. When big name, popular players started to go overseas during the NWSL season, we thought it was a bit curious. The league constantly states it wants to grow and get more attention, but then why are these big names leaving during the season? I’m starting to see why (my own assumption based on the news, btw).
At a certain point I had to ask myself “When is enough, enough?” When is it right to stop giving my money to an organization that spends most of it’s energy telling everyone how great it is, but when push comes to shove it spends more energy covering up abuse than confronting it? When is it time to maybe see that actions speak louder than words? Merritt Paulson loves to tell us how great and forward-thinking his organizations are, but what has he shown us he really cares about? Seems to me he cares about protecting serial abusers rather than his own players. But it was never about doing the right thing, was it Merritt? It was always about stroking your ego and the spotlight.
Well count me out. I’m done supporting a person and organization who treats others like commodities, and protects predators. This goes for the Timbers as well. I know this is antithetical to the NWSL growing, and I know it doesn’t help the players. But if the only way this league can exist is by protecting abusers, and treating it’s players like garbage, then maybe it doesn’t deserve to exist at all?