by Paul Kennedy
Portland Timbers and Thorns president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson and president of business Mike Golub were fired on Wednesday.
The announcement came two days after the release of the Yates Report on abuse in the NWSL and one day after Merritt Paulson, the owner and CEO of the Thorns and Timbers, announced he would step aside on Thorns-related decision making, as would Wilkinson and Golub, pending the completion of the NWSL-NWSLPA investigation into abuse in the NWSL.
The organization's general counsel Heather Davis has been named interim president of Peregrine Sports, overseeing business operations for both the Timbers and Thorns.
Ned Grabavoy, the Timbers' technical director, will lead their soccer operations, while Thorns GM Karina LeBlanc will continue to lead the NWSL club's soccer operations.
Wilkinson was in charge of the soccer side of the Thorns in 2015 when Paul Riley was not retained as head coach. A club investigation found evidence of Riley's misconduct with players, but it did not disclose it in its release announcing his departure. Riley soon got a new coaching job at the Western New York Flash and later coached the North Carolina Courage until his dismissal on Sept. 30, 2021.
As Riley moved on, the Yates Report found that Wilkinson and Paulson vouched for Riley, never fully disclosing what they knew of his behavior or how he was terminated for cause.
The report included an email by then-NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush to U.S. Soccer officials in which he "conveyed his understanding" that Wilkinson told the Flash that Riley was "put in a bad position" by former Thorns player Mana Shim (whose complaint about Riley's behavior prompted the Thorns' investigation) and that Wilkinson would "hire [Riley] in a heartbeat."
A recent report in the Oregonian included allegations by former employees about Golub and workplace issues and the treatment of women on the business side of the Timbers/Thorns organization. The article followed an internal review of the club conducted by law firm DLA Piper.
The Timbers also came under scrutiny for the handling of domestic violence allegations against former player Andy Polo in 2021.
Wilkinson, 48, played for and coached the USL Timbers and became their technical director in 2010 ahead of their move to MLS in 2011. Golub, 61, worked for Major League Baseball Productions and Nike Sports Entertainment and in the NBA before joining the Timbers in 2010 as chief operating officer.
Both teams -- the Thorns (2013 and 2017) and Timbers (2015) -- have won league titles, while the Thorns set a world record for average attendance by a women's team when they averaged 20,098 fans a game in 2019. Following the expansion of Providence Park to 25,218 seats, the Timbers sold out every game, extending their streak of sellouts to 163 games that ended when MLS play resumed following the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown.
On Tuesday, Alaska Airlines, a longstanding Thorns and Timbers sponsor, issued a statement that its "priority is supporting the players and ensuring any action we take contributes to positive systemic change. We are currently assessing options to fulfill those objectives."
And on Wednesday, after Wilkinson and Golub were fired, sponsor Tillamook creamery issued a statement that it "will only reconsider future sponsorship if the organization makes meaningful, institutional changes."