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Thorns sponsors threaten to pull support without ‘meaningful’ changes

The Thorns and Timbers play their home matches at Portland's Providence Park. (Craig Mitchelldyer/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Sponsorship deals hang in the balance as the Portland Thorns continue to deal with the fallout of U.S. Soccer’s investigation into the NWSL.

Thorns sponsor Tillamook released a statement Wednesday saying the company is “dismayed” by the findings of the investigation, which revealed systemic abuses within the league – including within the Thorns organization.

“[The findings] are counter to our values at Tillamook that prioritize an inclusive culture and workplace where all team members feel respected, safe and supported,” the company said in its statement. “We stand in full support of the Portland Thorns players.”

Tillamook then alluded to a potential loss of sponsorship if the Thorns don’t make significant changes, writing that the company “will only reconsider future sponsorship if the organization makes meaningful, institutional changes.”

This comes as pressure intensifies on club owner Merritt Paulson to sell both the Thorns and the MLS’ Portland Timbers. Paulson has taken a step back from the Thorns, and former general manager Gavin Wilkinson and president of business operations Mike Golub have been fired from the Thorns and Timbers.

Fans have let the teams know of their outrange, as have other club sponsors.

Laurelwood Brewing Co. was the first of the sponsors to make a statement, in which the company said it would “wait to see what happens with team ownership and management” before deciding whether to renew its sponsorship for next season.

“Laurelwood Brewing Co. has been a sponsor of the Portland Thorns since April of this year,” the company said in its statement. “We want to make clear that the findings in this report do not reflect the values of Laurelwood Brewing Co., its ownership or management.”

Alaska Airlines has also said it is “assessing options” for their sponsorship in order to support players and push for “positive systemic change.”

Players also have called for change. On Wednesday, Crystal Dunn expressed the difficulties with putting on a Thorns jersey.

“Yeah, I think that is probably one of the hardest things as players that we are facing now, is feeling a sense of pride in playing,” said Dunn. “The jerseys that we’re wearing — it’s hard to be happy in them. It’s hard to find joy in wearing it.

“What gives me comfort is knowing I have incredible teammates that I’ve really leaned on a lot throughout this year.”

Meanwhile, Thorns defender and USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn issuing a scathing statement Tuesday.

“Every owner and executive and U.S. soccer official who has repeatedly failed the players and failed to protect the players, who have hidden behind legalities and have not participated fully in these investigations, should be gone,” she said.