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NWSL sponsors redirect dollars to the players amid Yates fallout

Portland Thorns sponsors have been vocal after the Yates report implicated their team leadership. (Craig Mitchelldyer/USA TODAY Sports)

Two NWSL team sponsors have taken a new stance in the wake of Sally Yates’ findings of systemic abuse in the NWSL, opting to redirect their sponsorship dollars to the players rather than the clubs.

Sherwin-Williams, a sponsor of Racing Louisville FC, suspended its partnership with the club in favor of making a donation to the NWSL Players Association’s emergency fund, the company announced Friday.

In the U.S. Soccer report released last Monday, Yates said that Racing Louisville was one of three clubs that did not cooperate fully with her investigation. Former Louisville coach Christy Holly was a main subject of Yates’ report, which found that he sexually assaulted former player Erin Simon on multiple occasions. Racing Louisville fired Holly last August but did not provide a reason for his exit at the time.

“The Sherwin-Williams company is deeply saddened by the disturbing findings of the Yates report commissioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation,” the company wrote in a statement. “The abuse outlined in the report is reprehensible and we condemn the use of power to systemically harm women. … Any future support will depend on the National Women’s Soccer League creating meaningful change to ensure the health and safety of the players.”

Portland Thorns and Timbers sponsor Alaska Airlines followed suit with an updated statement Sunday. The airline announced it would redirect its sponsorship dollars this quarter to the NWSLPA fund and to youth sports in the Portland community “following calls from the players association to support their emergency fund, listening to the Portland fan community, and speaking with team leaders to understand their progress underway.”

“We will continue to seek input from players and the community to ensure our actions support meaningful change, and will reevaluate our sponsorship based on clear evidence of progress,” their statement read.

Multiple Thorns sponsors have threatened to pull support after the Yates report revealed new details of the club’s cover-up of accusations of sexual abuse and coercion against former coach Paul Riley. Portland fired president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson and president of business operations Mike Golub, and owner Merritt Paulson removed himself from decision-making in the wake of the report. Meanwhile, public pressure has mounted for Paulson to sell his stake in the team.

NWSLPA executive director Meghann Burke has encouraged sponsors and fans to support players through the National Emergency Trust fund to help cover out-of-pocket costs.

“Also, go to games,” Burke wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “Players need to see & hear you.”

The NWSL playoffs begin with a two-game quarterfinal round on Oct. 16.