Sexual Misconduct Leads to Changes in the Portland Thorns Staff


Gavin Wilkinson (front left) and Merritt Paulson (right back) at a press conference after Yates investigation (Photo Credit Pro Soccer Wire)

Britney Henderson, Staff Writer

General manager, Gavin Wilkinson, and president of business, Mike Golub, of the Portland Thorns, were fired October 5, 2022 due to multiple sexual abuse encounters and interference with an ongoing investigation. Additionally, owner Merritt Paulson denies all charges filed against him for the same reasons, but chooses to step down from both the Timbers and Thorns organizations.

Last year, The Athletic, an acclaimed sports news source, was directly informed from players in the National Womens Soccer League (NWSL) about different instances of sexual misconduct they have encountered as players. In return, an investigation was opened and led by former U.S. deputy attorney general, Sally Yates. It was found that sexual misconduct in the NWSL is not a rare occurrence and is closer to home than expected.

The Portland Thorns have been rising in success and popularity, but player-filed complaints about sexual abuse have been swept under the rug since 2015. That year, players Sinead Farrelly and Meleana Shim approached the Human Resources team and Paulson with allegations against head coach Paul Riley. Riley was making degrading comments to the two women about their sexuality and physically pressuring them into uncomfortable situations. At the same time, Wilkinson was making comments towards Shim saying she should keep her sexuality closeted because it would be a better role for her on the team (The Athletic). Human resources created a report on Riley’s behavior however it never mentions the words “sexual” or “harassment” and only breifly mentions the comments he made to the players, not referring to it as abuse. Shortly after, Riley was removed from his title of the Thorns head coach, although the reason was never publicly released.

Not even a year later, Wilkinson was contacted by the Western New York Flash who were interested in hiring Riley. When asked about any suspicious behaviors, Wilkison claimed Riley’s release was simply due to coaching abilities and no other reasons. The Flash hired Riley a few days later, but his actions towards players repeated once again; a recurrence seen on team after team who chose to hire Riley as a head coach. 

With more digging, Yates revealed Golub had similar authority and involvement in Riley’s  release. As the president of business it was his job to ensure Riley’s actions did not affect the organization’s profits in any way, which meant not publicly sharing the reasons for him being fired. She also found Golub had his own allegations about making a comment to the Thorns female coach in 2013 about sleeping with her (The Athletic).

Wilkinson and Goulb hold equal responsibility for the acts Riley was able to get away with, not just on the Thorns, but on the New York Flash and North Carolina Courage as well. Riley has since been fired by both teams.

In response to all events brought to the public eye, Paulson says, “I cannot apologize enough for our role in a gross systemic failure to protect player safety and the missteps we made in 2015. I am truly sorry,” ( He follows this with admitting that he would be removing himself from any decisions made about the Portland Thorns or Timbers for the remainder of the investigation due to his own charges he continues to deny.