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Megan Rapinoe: Merritt Paulson, Arnim Whisler not fit to be NWSL owners

(Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Megan Rapinoe is in England, set to play a match with the U.S. women’s national team, but her mind is on the NWSL.

The OL Reign star forward called out Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler and Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson in the wake of the Sally Yates report. Released on Monday, Yates’ findings after a year-long investigation into abuse in the NWSL outlined wrongdoing by clubs and inaction by owners in the face of players coming forward with complaints.

“I don’t think Merritt Paulson is fit to be the owner in Portland. I don’t think Arnim is fit to be the owner in Chicago,” Rapinoe said during a press conference from London, where the USWNT is set to play England in a friendly at a sold-out Wembley Stadium on Friday.

“None of those people have shown they deserve to be around this beautiful game because they can’t even do the basic, basic responsibilities of their job.”

Following the release of Yates’ report, Paulson apologized for his role in the scandal. Paulson and the Thorns were found to have hid the allegations of sexual harassment and coercion brought against former coach Paul Riley when he was fired as Portland head coach in 2015. Paulson and then-general manager Gavin Wilkinson, who was fired along with president of business Mike Golub on Wednesday, then recommended Riley for his next job with the Western New York Flash.

Riley’s misconduct was first brought to light last year, when former Thorns players Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly shared their experiences with The Athletic. The North Carolina Courage, where Riley was serving as head coach at the time, subsequently fired him.

“Yesterday’s Yates report unveiling was the darkest day I have experienced, and I know the same is true for everyone else who loves our team and our league,” he said in the report. “I know it was even harder and darker for those whose stories were shared publicly. I cannot apologize enough for our role in a gross systemic failure to protect player safety and the missteps we made in 2015. I am truly sorry.”

Paulson added that he would remove himself from team decision-making as Portland prepares for the NWSL playoffs. The NWSL and NWSL Players Association’s joint investigation is expected to conclude by the end of the year.

Whisler was also named in the Yates report for being complicit in coach Rory Dames’ abuse.

After being made aware of verbal abuse, emotional abuse, racism and an inappropriate, “sexually charged atmosphere” created by Dames, Whisler sided with the coach and refused to accept his offer of resignation, instead putting the blame on players who reported the abuse.

“Rory’s been an asshole for the entire time that I’ve known him,” Rapinoe said of Dames.

Whisler said in a statement on Tuesday that he would remove himself from the NWSL board of governors and pass operational control of the club to the Red Stars’ executive team.

“There are few things in life that I have as much love and admiration for than our Chicago Red Stars,” he wrote. “That’s why after reviewing yesterday’s report, I am filled with sorrow upon reading the many stories and experiences shared by so many incredibly brave individuals who have played in the NWSL, including our beloved club. I am so deeply sorry for what our players experienced during their time spent in Chicago.

On Wednesday, the Red Stars’ Board of Directors voted to remove Whisler from their ranks.

“The Board was deeply disappointed after reading the Yates report and believes the club cannot move forward in rebuilding trust with players, staff and the Red Stars community with his continued involvement,” the group wrote in a statement.