Portland Thorns coach Rhian Wilkinson resigned on Friday, just five weeks after leading the team to the National Women’s Soccer League championship.
Wilkinson released a statement saying the players had asked for her resignation and she had complied. Wilkinson said she was investigated and cleared of any wrongdoing by the NWSL and its players’ union after saying she and a player developed feelings for each other. for the other but had never acted on it. She said she and the player eventually “stopped all communication outside of work.”
“The investigation process and the willingness of players and staff to use human resources and league reporting is critically important,” Wilkinson said. “If the women’s game is to avoid further power imbalances and player abuse, these systems must be used and there must be trust in the process and its results. We must continue to highlight these processes.
The investigation found no evidence of abuse of power or coercion.
“The Portland Thorns and Coach Wilkinson have followed all League processes and policies and have cooperated fully with this investigation,” NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement. “The Joint Investigation Team conducted a thorough investigation which resulted in a finding of no violation of League policies.”
Wilkinson’s resignation comes during a turbulent time for the team and the NWSL.
Team owner Merritt Paulson announced on Thursday that he is putting the Thorns up for sale, a move that follows a US Soccer-commissioned investigation into abuse and misconduct in women’s football. A report on the investigation by former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates detailed systemic misconduct that affected multiple teams, including the Thorns.
The investigation was launched last year after North Carolina coach Paul Riley, the former Thorns coach, was accused of sexually harassing and coercing players. Riley, who was fired by Courage, denied the allegations. He was one of five league coaches who were fired or resigned last year over allegations of misconduct.
The Yates report detailed how the Thorns mishandled complaints about Riley when he coached the team in 2014-15.
Paulson stepped down from a decision-making role with the team in October and two Thorns executives were fired. But calls had persisted for him to sell the Thorns.
The team has no time limit to find a buyer. The goal is to find an owner who will keep the team rooted in the Portland community.
Paulson has owned the Thorns since the NWSL was formed in 2013. The club has won three NWSL titles, including this year’s championship by defeating Kansas City Current in the Finals.
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this report.
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