Thorns FC

An open letter from Merritt Paulson


The safety and wellbeing of our players – physically, emotionally and psychologically – always has been and will continue to be our top priority. Given my personal commitment to women’s soccer and to building one of the best teams in the world, I speak for our entire organization in saying that we are reeling and devastated by the abuse that Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly endured while playing for the Portland Thorns under former coach Paul Riley.  

We applaud not only their bravery in coming forward, but their determination to be heard. It should not have been this hard, nor taken this long, at great personal and professional toll to the survivors.

As a team, an organization and as individuals, we at the Portland Thorns have zero tolerance for harassment or discrimination of any kind. Within hours of receiving a complaint against our then coach six years ago from Mana – the first and only we have ever received from anyone – we: (1) placed Coach Riley on immediate suspension; (2) conducted an investigation of the claims that, within a matter of days, led to his termination; and (3) shared everything we learned in the investigation with the NWSL. 

But we then made an opaque announcement about not renewing Riley’s contract as opposed to explicitly announcing his termination, guided by what we, at the time, thought was the right thing to do out of respect for player privacy. I deeply regret our role in what is clearly a systemic failure across women’s professional soccer.  

Let me be unequivocal in saying that I as team owner and we as an organization disavow the culture of silence that may have allowed for additional victimization by a predatory coach, whose actions we forcefully condemn.  

Ultimately, we could have done more, which is particularly hard to say as the team that we have held as the highest standard in women’s professional soccer in the world. I apologize to Mana, Sinead and everyone else who is hurting as a result. I welcome the investigations that will be forthcoming. I welcome this moment for positive change in both our own organization and the NWSL, and fully intend to help drive it. It should have come sooner, but come it must.

What are we, as an organization, doing now?  

  1. We are creating opportunities for safe and open dialogue with our players and staff, and have made supplemental crisis, mental health and wellness resources available to them.
  2. We are in the process of adopting a confidential and anonymous reporting system for allegations of harassment and discrimination involving our organization. This function should be in place and available by week’s end.
  3. We renew our commitment to the NWSL’s anti-harassment policy, including its anti-retaliation provisions, which our head of HR and General Counsel were trained on this past spring.
  4. We will continue SafeSport training, which all Thorns players, Thorns staff and youth academy staff completed this year. We fully embrace the U.S. Center for SafeSport, and share its commitment to prevent the emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse of athletes – in our stadium and throughout the sport.
  5. We are creating a form on our website to enable our fans and community to provide anonymized feedback and input as we go through this transformative process.  
  6. We are evaluating our own organizational plan for the Portland Thorns. Our north star is what is best for the players and technical staff.
  7. We have retained new outside lawyers including a female former federal prosecutor to conduct a comprehensive and deliberate independent investigation of our original 2015 investigation. Whatever findings result from this review, I commit to you, we will make public in summary form. We will be equally transparent with whatever corrective actions we take in response to the investigative findings.  
  8. Similarly, we welcome and will fully cooperate with the related investigations by FIFA, US Soccer and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, and look forward to the much needed light they will shine on the facts as they emerge in due course over the investigative process.

We stand with Mana, Sinead, our team – including all past and present players – and with our fans and community. I continue to be beyond proud of the Portland Thorns and what we have achieved. But we can and must do better.