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Mana Shim calls out Thorns investigation for clearing Gavin Wilkinson

Former Thorns and current Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson speaks with Merritt Paulson, the owner of both teams. (Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Former Portland Thorns player Mana Shim is speaking out after new details from an investigation into the club’s handling of coach Paul Riley’s 2015 firing have emerged.

The independent investigation cleared president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson of wrongdoing, the Oregonian reported. Law firm DLA Piper conducted the investigation from late 2021 to early 2022 and shared findings with employees of the club in late August, but the results have not been made public.

Shim, who played for the Thorns from 2013-17, filed a sexual harassment complaint against Riley in 2015, and the coach was fired for cause.

The investigation showed that the club obscured the reason for Riley’s departure from the public. Riley continued to coach in the NWSL until 2021, when Shim and her former Thorns teammate Sinead Farrelly went public with allegations against him in a report published by The Athletic in September 2021.

Shim also detailed to The Athletic a conversation she had with Wilkinson, then the general manager of the Thorns, ahead of the 2014 season.

The midfielder had come out publicly in August 2013, one day before Portland won the 2013 NWSL championship game against the Western New York Flash. In early 2014, she participated in a panel on polyamory and posted about it on Twitter.

In their 2014 conversation, Wilkinson implied that Shim should keep quiet about her sexuality, she told The Athletic.

The DLA Piper investigation, though, chalked up Wilkinson’s comment to a misunderstanding, the Oregonian reported.

Wilkinson could have chosen his words more carefully in speaking with Shim, he told investigators, but said he wasn’t trying to silence her sexuality.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a little while and I want to set the record straight after the Thorns ‘investigation’ was released,” Shim tweeted Friday night. “Gavin Wilkinson explicitly told me to be more like a player who we both knew to be closeted. There was no misunderstanding.

“Gavin told ‘investigators’ that he called the meeting about a tweet I sent. He never mentioned a tweet in our meeting. It pains me that after everything that happened this year, Gavin, Merritt, and the Thorns are still attacking victims. But it does not surprise me.”

Shim shared the details of the conversation with her partner at the time and with teammate Alex Morgan, and both women told The Athletic they remembered speaking with Shim about the incident.

“(Shim) said Wilkinson’s tone was genial, but the message was clear: We don’t talk about being gay or having pride. We play soccer. Wilkinson also praised one of the team’s best players and her reticence to discuss anything but soccer in interviews,” Meg Linehan wrote for The Athletic.

The team responded to the claims made in The Athletic report, saying, “Gavin categorically never communicated to Mana, or any Thorns or Timbers player for that matter, to not discuss political or personal views.”

Wilkinson was placed on administrative leave after The Athletic report in October 2021 pending the investigation. He was replaced as Thorns general manager by Karina LeBlanc in November 2021, but he was reinstated as president of soccer for both the Thorns and the Timbers in January 2022, and he remains general manager of the MLS club.

Several investigations into various organizations’ handling of the claims against Riley and other NWSL coaches are ongoing. Former U.S. attorney general Sally Yates is spearheading an investigation for U.S. Soccer, while the NWSL and NWSPLA are conducting a joint investigation.