Thieves of glory

Just yesterday I wrote this on one of the comment threads at Stumptown Footy:

“Much as I rage against them I respect The Damned. Riley took a good WNY club and built on it to create a legitimate champion (one that if the league was honest about it would have three stars, hard as that makes me gnash my teeth…). I felt the same way about our first true rival club, Vlatko’s FCKC Blues. Loved to beat ‘em, hated losing to ‘em…but always respected ‘em.”

And then, this morning, I read this:

“Toward the end of the (2015) season, Shim (with her partner’s help) started working on an email detailing the major incidents between her and Riley. After the end of the regular season, on Sept. 16, 2015, she sent the email to Merritt Paulson, the team’s owner, Wilkinson, Garcia Ford and Riley. She also forwarded it to Jeff Plush, who was then the NWSL commissioner.”

~ The Athletic, September 30, 2021

By now you know the rest; that the NWSL has a new player-abuse scandal. That then-Thorns coach Paul Riley has been accused of misbehavior – at least! – that extended back to his pre-NWSL career through his tenure with Portland.

And, striking closest and most personally home, it turns out that the Thorns “investigation” of Shim’s accusation found trouble…and then said nothing; to the players, the press, or the public:

“Immediately when we became aware of these allegations at the end of our 2015 season, Paul Riley was placed on administrative leave and a thorough investigation advised by outside counsel was conducted, working closely with the NWSL league office,” the team said in a statement provided on Wednesday. “The investigation found no unlawful activity, but that Mr. Riley had violated our policies (emphasis mine). As a result, we chose not to renew his contract. The findings of the investigation were shared with the NWSL league office.”

~ The Athletic, September 30, 2021

Here’s the thing that troubles me the most about this whole story.

Let’s assume you’re a senior HR supervisor in a big corporation.

For some time now you’ve noticed that the section chief of one of the production teams is doing a lot of after-work socializing with the team. You’ve heard stories of some pretty heavy drinking. There’s rumors of some personal interactions involved that seem sketchy. Several of the team members have alluded to work practices that seem marginal.

Wouldn’t you – at least – spend some time looking into this person? Talking to team members off the record? Spending some time keeping an eye on the shop floor?

And – if the situation seemed as sketchy as the first reports indicated – wouldn’t you take the manager aside and give them a talking-to? A reminder re: appropriate workplace behavior (to include outside-of-work socializing) and corporate policy? Maybe even write them up so there was a paper trail in cast this ever turned into a bigger issue?

It’s….well, unbelievable…that Riley seems to have gotten by with all this for two seasons completely on the down-low. No body knew. When he got fired the team thanked him for his service. Like probably 99% of Thorns fans I just assumed Riley got canned for screwing up 2015.

But it sounds like he was pulling this shit for years. And to believe that the FO all the way up to Paulson had literally no clue until the 2015 post-season?

G’wan, pull the other one.

So nobody – NObody – in the FO knew this guy was off the rails until Shim dimed him off in the fall of 2015? Not a peep? Not a clue?


And then, when the “investigation” turned up “violations of our policies”, the club did nothing substantive that prevent turning the guy loose to have dictatorial authority – which is close to what a head coach has – over other women? Because maybe that was a fucking BAD IDEA!!!???

The Thorns organization failed through inaction to perform their duty to provide a safe workplace. This included failing to supervise their staff, failing to provide a safe and secure way for employees to report incidents of harassment and abuse, and in general failing to provide even the most basic level of oversight expected of an employer.

Or – worse – the organization made all these arrangements, inspections, and oversight, and then disregarded to evidence they found. This version assumes that (at least) rumors and similar talk were being circulated no later than the end of 2014 and that either the FO deliberately didn’t pursue them and when, in 2015, when they did, did nothing to warn other potential victims.

Either way…I’m still sick at heart.

This is just too close to home. My heart broke for Shim’s struggles. I loved Farrelly’s sass. To hear that these two were living a nightmare so I could enjoy myself watching them play, cheering for them on the field, writing and talking and thinking about their exploits? While all the time they were being torn apart, ripped and mauled and harrowed by the coach we all thought was leading us all to glory?

Now I feel like a sickening voyeur.

And I’m furious about that.

At Riley. At the Thorns FO. At the league. At the commissioner.

And not just for what they did themselves, not just what they did to the players, but for taking a part of my sports memories and making a filthy mockery out of them.

These people – Riley, Wilkinson, Paulson, Baird – have not only stolen the dreams and hopes and lives of the players savaged by Riley’s acts.

Through that they have also stolen my memories of glory, cherished memories and soccer passions; my outrage over the ‘16 semifinal, my joy over the ‘17 Final, my sizzlingly intense desire to beat Riley’s Damned because he was so good and beating his teams so satisfying…all now tainted with disgust and outrage that at the heart all was rotten and corrupt.

Somehow this coming weekend seems smaller and dingier and grayer.

As a fan I want to do something. As a supporter of the game, and the team, and the women’s game, I think I should do something.

But…what? How?

And that’s a discussion I think we need to have in the comments.

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

15 thoughts on “Thieves of glory

  1. I also feel sick. I live to watch these athletes play soccer and am so heartbroken over what they have had to endure off the field. I would live to go to PP on Saturday, have the players refuse to play and just sit in my seat and cry, honestly. I just don’t know what else to do, beyond writing to the club to threaten nonrenewal of my season tickets, which I did this morning.

  2. Thanks for putting this into words, John. The most sickening part, to me, is the suspicion that these revelations, so shocking to us, are totally unsurprising to the players, too many of whom have surely had to put up with or witness behavior like this since their youth club days. I fear we have a long and disheartening way to go.
    I intend (once I cool down a little) to let the Thorns organization know that I will be basing my decision about renewing my membership on whether they can re-earn my confidence. I can’t see remaining a member of an organization I can’t support.

  3. I thought about my ST, and the more I think about it the more it seems like doing that would be for myself, my own shame.

    I want to make the FO, the people responsible for this, feel the shame, instead.

    And part of this is wanting players like Shim and Farrelly to be able to live their dreams, free of men like Riley who would make those dreams nightmares, and men like Wilkinson who enable the Rileys by their denials and elisions. To walk away from the team, from the league, means walking away from the players, too.

    I’m really torn over what is the best way to handle this.

    1. Yeah, I’m struggling with that too. I don’t want to walk away from any of it, but I do want to somehow register my dissatisfaction with the status quo. And I’m worried that money may be the only thing that talks loud enough to be heard.

    2. Yep…same as you and CW: I’m questioning re-upping my ST. Not an easy thing to contemplate: I’ve had the same seat for the entire history of the club. Next year is almost certainly my last (moving to Tokyo anywhere from Fall of next year to Spring of the following, perma-plague permitting), which would make it all the more difficult. I’ve never in my life been as “into” a sports team (that I wasn’t playing on) as this club.

      But I’m a tad pissed off at how this was handled by the club. I understand why there was no explicit public outing of Riley; no competent legal department on earth would have let that happen. But behind-the-scenes communication is an open secret in the sports world (and business in general). While that has huge downsides – good ol’ boy network, anyone? – it’s also an opportunity to blackball someone like Riley, an opportunity that probably wasn’t taken, given Riley’s swift re-hiring. I say “probably” only because there’s reason to believe the Sahlens knew about this and decided they didn’t care (thus booking their ticket to Scum Central Station…).

      There are also ways to publicly state that a person was fired for cause that DON’T expose the organization to lawsuits…and those ways damn sure don’t include the sort of statements the club actually made.

      My decision will probably come down to what you’ve mentioned: a desire to continue to support the PLAYERS, to be a part of letting them make a living at what they’re so good at and put their hearts into. I’ll probably even buy a shirt: I want a “my last year there” commemorative I can wear when I go to NTV Beleza games! But I still want to see substantive change…

      1. I think we’re now waiting to see what, if anything, the league and club do. I still have huge questions about 2015 and more about the future.

        While I understand the renewed #GWOut sentiment I’m seeing everywhere the problem is that we still don’t know what he knew and when. If there were real indications of what it now seems plain that Riley was up to and Wilkinson ignored them (what WERE those “policies” that Riley is supposed to have violated, dammit!?) then his position seems precarious, at least.

        But, as you point out – the legal aspects of firing mean that if Wilkinson knew only that, say, Riley had been out boozing with the troops? That’s different.

        It’s comforting to roll some FO heads for 2015…but the actual practicalities of it are difficult.

        And then there’s the club as it is; how comfortable do we – do I – feel that this has shaken the club enough to make it vigilant about the possibility of this happening again? How sturdy are the structures created to prevent it? How solid is Paulson’s commitment to his players – solid enough to release his old pal Wilkinson if need be?

        I hope to see a solid CBA in place this fall, with all of these safeguards and more in place. Right now we’re still largely in the “talk” phase, and talk is cheap. I want to see some action before I jump one way of the other.

  4. So here’s what I want to see from the club before anything else:
    1. Publication of the 2015 “investigation”, including any and all internal communication as well as between the club and the investigator, and details of how the matter was investigated.
    2. Establishment of an independent IG (independent of Peregrine hires; whether or not the IG should answer to Paulson depends a lot on how much Paulson knew in 2015…) with a whistleblower hotline and the power/budget to investigate potential future Rileys.
    3. Hire of a female GM for the Thorns.
    4. Hire of a female HC to replace Parsons.
    Hey, it’s the National WOMEN’S Soccer League, right? Let’s be that.
    5. If the 2015 papers indicate it…a potential discussion of Wilkinson’s continued employment. Bottom line; if he knew Riley was skeeving and did nothing? Why should he continue to work here?
    6. Regardless of #5…Wilkinson does owe Shim a better, bigger, deeper, humbler apology. With lots more groveling. Both for 2015 as well as his shitty little passive-aggressive “Oh I’m sorry if you took my words the wrong way” response yesterday.

    After that? Then we’ll talk.

  5. Let me note that I’m not going to suggest (yet…) that a Thorns GM/HC has to be a woman. I think it’s a good idea – the problems we’re now seeing owe a lot to the “old boy network” and the “go-along-get-along” culture of the league – but that’s kind of giving up.

    But it certainly gives us a chance to give some qualified women a move up that ladder. So many names mentioned – Sinc! ‘Brunn! Angerer! – that I can’t help but think that this is an opportunity to start making changes.

    I DO think that a separate GM for the Thorns is a must. Obviously we don’t know what exact role Gavin played in 2014-15. But remember that those were the MLS Cup seasons for the Timbers, and he had a LOT on his plate. It’s entirely possible that he just let things on the Thorns side slide, and that’s not an excuse. Both clubs deserve an actively engaged GM. It’s time for a change.

  6. There’s a google doc up that provides input to the Riveters re: where you’d like to see this going. It’s here:

    Another thing; I’d love to see a public conversation between the RR/107ist and whoever is the Thorns PA rep (is it Klingenberg? She seems to have the attitude for a shop steward…) to get the players’ input on where they’d like to see us moving and how we can help them. This is about the players, and so ISTM that we should be getting their guidance…

  7. Boycotting seems counter-productive. A friend said, “the players need our support, not our silence.” PTFC may have gone along with the game suspension partly for fear of what the fans will bring/do and show the world on TV. We still gotta bring it whenever the next game is. The “Equal Pay” chants at the World Cup Finals got FIFA to change (hopefully, maybe, a little). Maybe 10k people chanting “Do Better, Be Better” might get NWSL’s attention.

  8. Agree that a boycott simply punishes everyone (including the current players, who don’t deserve that); I don’t see the utility of it.

    I guess I’m too old and cynical to believe that chants – or silence – have any real leverage on the FO. To be there to chant or stand silent means that they’ve got your money and your attention. I’m not sure if there IS a way, short of truly angry public demonstration, which is in itself troubling.

    But it seems like I, we, need to do SOMEthing to impact the club and the league, to show how angry and betrayed we feel. That’s why I think reaching out to the PA rep(s) is a good start.

    Let’s hear from them; what do THEY think would clout the FO and the league on the ear? Then let’s do that.


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