Portland Thorns announced general manager/president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson has been placed on administrative leave “pending the results of the outside independent investigation” in wake of the Paul Riley sexual coercion allegations.
There is no word of his role as GM/president of soccer for MLS’s Portland Timbers.
The move comes less than an hour after Thorns players released a statement calling for the club to address “its failures,” which included a call for him to be placed on leave.
Meanwhile, players across the league paused at the six minute mark and stood in solidarity at midfield as the NWSL deals with a scandal that extends beyond Riley.
“We offer our unwavering support to Mana, Sinead, Kaiya, and all the players who have come forward to tell their truths, including those who are still struggling in silence,” the statement read in part.
Former players have accused ex-Thorns (and now ex-Courage) coach Riley of sexual coercion and inappropriate comments about players’ weight and sexual orientations, with allegations spanning three teams and three leagues, beginning in 2011, in a report by the The Athletic‘s Meg Linehan and Katie Strang.
Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim both shared incidences with The Athletic of when Riley allegedly sexually coerced the former players. Farrelly detailed an incident before her time with the Thorns when he coerced her into having sex with him and spending the night in his room.
Then, Riley allegedly led the then-Thorns teammates to his apartment in 2015 after a night of drinking and pressured them to kiss each other while he watched. Shim filed a complaint about Riley’s behavior with the franchise’s front office several days after the 2015 season ended.
However, Riley stayed employed with the league, later being rehired in 2016 by the Western New York Flash (the franchise that ultimately relocated to North Carolina).
Riley was fired by NC Courage on Thursday after The Athletic‘s report was published, and NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird resigned on Friday night.
However, Riley is not the only coach who has been fired for abusive behavior.
Spirit majority owner Steve Baldwin announced his plan to resign from his roles as the CEO and managing partner, effective immediately, on Tuesday. The move came after the club announced last week that it had fired coach Richie Burke for cause after he was initially suspended for allegations of verbal and emotional abuse in August.
According to the Washington Post, NWSL’s investigation into the coach expanded to allegations by several female employees of a toxic “old boys’ club” culture, which included a male executive using degrading nicknames for female players.
Burke was reportedly fired for harassment and creating a toxic work culture for female employees, per a Washington Post investigation. In the report, former players said Burke “made racially insensitive jokes” and described him as being “unbelievably volatile.” Kaiya McCullough was part of the Washington Post investigation into Burke.
In light of the systemic change necessary across the league, Thorns players included demands in its statement for their club and how they envision the league. They called for there be an increase of diverse voices on the board of executives, and a seat at the table to “increase transparency, accountability, and cooperation between the players and the front office.”
As for the league, they envision a “safe work environment” where “player’s voices are the driving force towards growth” and “accountability is swift, fair, and thorough.”
“Players have always borne the burden of demanding change—it is time for the players, the owners and the league to take responsibility together towards good stewardship and the wellbeing of every individual in the NWSL.”