Portland Thorns place GM on leave as Sinclair, players push for changes

Portland Thorns have placed their general manager on administrative leave, as the National Women's Soccer League resumed play Wednesday night with players' minds still on the abuse scandal that is shaking the league to its core.

NWSL players stop in 6th minute, link arms during 1st game back since abuse scandal

Portland Thorns and Houston Dash players, along with referees, gather at midfield, in demonstration of solidarity with two former NWSL players who came forward with allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against a prominent coach, during the first half of an NWSL soccer match in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. (Steve Dipaola/AP Photo)

The Portland Thorns have placed its general manager on administrative leave with players' minds still on the abuse scandal that is shaking the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) to its core.

In a statement posted to Twitter Wednesday, the club said that Gavin Wilkinson would be on leave pending the results of the ongoing, outside independent investigation into now-fired North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley.

Canadian star player Christine Sinclair posted a message from the team's players ahead of the decision, saying that they were "devastated and heartbroken in learning of the horrifying events" that occurred within the league, as well as the club's role in them.

"While we have remained silent in the public eye for several days, within our locker room we've been grieving, reflecting, asking difficult questions of the club, gathering facts and engaging in daily discussions," it read. 

The players called for changes, including the leave of Wilkinson until the investigations into Riley conclude. They also called for an increase in the diversity of voices within the club's board of executives and that the players have seats at the table to increase transparency. 

6 years to be heard

It came on the same day the NWSL resumed play, with athletes across three games — Washington at Gotham, Louisville at North Carolina, and Houston at Portland — stopping in the sixth minute to come together at midfield and link arms in a moment of solidarity.

The NWSL Players' Association said on Twitter that the sixth minute represents the six years it took for the abuse allegations made by players Sinead Farrelly, Mana Shim and others against coaches to be heard.

"Tonight, we reclaim our place on the field, because we will not let our joy be taken from us," the NWSLPA said. "But this is not business as usual."

Farrelly and Shim made allegations of harassment, including sexual coercion, against Riley that dated back as far as 2011.

WATCH | Players stop games in moment of solidarity:

NWSL's Washington Spirit, Gotham FC pause play to hold moment of solidarity

2 years ago
Duration 1:48
Players from Gotham FC and the Washington Spirit paused play at the sixth minute, in response to a league-wide scandal that saw Spirit coach Richie Burke fired over allegations of verbal harassment and North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley fired over allegations of sexual misconduct.

N.C. Courage, Racing Louisville FC unite in wake of NWSL abuse scandal

2 years ago
Duration 2:20
Players from Racing Louisville FC and the North Carolina Courage halted play in the sixth minute, in response to a league-wide scandal that saw Courage coach Paul Riley fired over allegations of sexual misconduct and Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke fired over allegations of verbal harassment.

Riley was reportedly hired by the now-defunct Western New York Flash despite a complaint over his behaviour that was shared with the league after his 2015 season with the Portland Thorns. Farrelly and Shim were both members of that 2015 team.

The Courage was founded in 2017 after its owner acquired the franchise rights from the Flash.

The league called off its weekend games as all parties came to terms with the accusations.

Former Canadian national team member and Thorns player Kaylyn Kyle was CBS' colour commentator for the broadcast of the Louisville-North Carolina match.

"I'm devastated, disgusted, but I'm not shocked and that's the problem," she said on air. "I played in this league where this was normalized... I was scared to say anything about it."

Riley was immediately fired by the Courage, and both FIFA and U.S. Soccer opened investigations into why he was able to continue coaching even after the players brought their concerns to the league. Riley told The Athletic the allegations were "completely untrue."

"Protect the players. Protect women. It's everyone's responsibility to hold the standards and enforce accountability. Why are we still dealing with these mostly male transgressions? This is unacceptable," Sinclair said the day the initial article was published. 

Earlier Wednesday, the owner of the Courage apologized for the franchise's "failure" to create an environment where players felt safe in coming forward.

WATCH | Bring It In panel on how NWSL scandal came to be:

Breaking down the NWSL - Paul Riley Scandal | Bring It In

2 years ago
Duration 11:34
Morgan Campbell, Shireen Ahmed and Meghan McPeak discuss the NWSL's scandal alledging Paul Riley's involvement in abusive behaviour and sexual conduct while head coach of the North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns.

Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke was fired in September after a Washington Post report detailed verbal and emotional abuse of players. The league formally dismissed Burke and sanctioned the Spirit after an independent investigation.

Gotham FC general manager Alyse LaHue was fired in July after an investigation connected to the league's anti-harassment policy. She has denied any wrongdoing.

Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly was fired in September but the reasons for his dismissal were not made public.

OL Reign coach Farid Benstiti was asked to resign in July after inappropriate comments made during practice.

With files from The Associated Press

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