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Report: Former Portland Thorns employees detail ‘toxic’ workplace

(Craig Mitchelldyer/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

A group of former Portland Timbers and Thorns employees detail allegations of a “toxic” work environment in a report published Sunday in The Oregonian.

The publication talked with two dozen former employees who spoke on workplace issues, primarily directed at Portland Timbers and Thorns executive Mike Golub. Allegations of Golub’s problematic behavior, including unwanted physical contact and hostile conduct.

Blair Neelands, who used to work for the Portland club, recalls an instance in 2019 when she went to shake Golub’s hand ahead of a meeting.

“He steps on the toe of my left foot and pushes me back with his shoulder,” Neelands told The Oregonian. “I stumble backwards and fall. And he’s laughing. It’s just completely childish behavior from a grown man, just to ensure his subordinates know where they stand with him.”

Per the organization, Golub has not been the subject of a formal human resources complaint. An internal review conducted by law firm DLA Piper, however, uncovered several issues in need of addressing.

The firm found no concerns on the soccer operations side of the organization but did find issues on the business side. The investigation revealed problems with how women employees were treated in the workplace, consistent with The Oregonian’s findings.

Golub responded to the claims made against him, denying any inappropriate behavior.

“My entire career, it’s never been raised as an issue,” Golub told The Oregonian. “That said, we’re in different times now. If how I conducted myself, with truly the best intentions, made anyone feel uncomfortable, I take that really seriously. I’m really good at what I do, and I’m a really good person, but I can be better.”

Golub has committed to continued sensitivity training in the wake of the internal report.

“It’s coaching, learning about organizational bias, changing workplace, generational issues that emerge in the workplace, unconscious bias,” Golub said. “It’s important stuff that all of us, anybody, can get better at. I certainly can. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. It means I can do better. And I think it’s really healthy and good.”

Owner Merritt Paulson was also the subject of criticism, though no specific issues were found involving Paulson in the internal investigation. The Oregonian story also included claims of a pervasively hostile environment toward women, detailing subpar accommodations for lactating mothers.

A former employee recounted her experience returning to work in 2018 postpartum and having to pump breastmilk in the suite where Paulson watches home Portland games. On game days, however, she said she had nowhere to pump but the bathroom.

Soon after, a room with a nameplate reading “electrical room” was converted to a lactation room. “A large piece of electrical equipment” took up most of the room, per The Oregonian.

“I could not be a mom at that organization,” the former employee said. “It was degrading and horrific, and the experience of even being in that room was embarrassing and mortifying.”

The team has said there is now a new space for nursing employees to pump. According to Sharia Mayfield, an attorney with the Portland-based law firm Meyer Stephenson, the club’s actions could have violated federal and state law. Oregon law “requires employers to ‘make reasonable efforts to provide a location, other than a public restroom or toilet stall, in close proximity to the employee’s work area for the employee to express milk in private,’” Mayfield told The Oregonian.

The internal review and claims brought forth via The Oregonian come after the club came under fire for its handling of allegations of sexual coercion by former coach Paul Riley.

On Monday, the NWSL released a statement addressing the alleged culture issues.

“There is nothing more important than the culture of the league,” the statement said. “Every person — players and employees included — deserve a respectful and professional workplace where people are supported and empowered to do their job.”

The league was made aware of a culture study conducted in 2021, per the statement, and is “supportive” of the changes that have been implemented as a result.

“We expect everyone associated with the NWSL to conduct themselves in a manner that creates a healthy and positive environment and we will continue to work tirelessly to achieve that objective,” the league said in its statement.

Caitlin Clark dunks on Michael Che in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports.

It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation. Clark finished her segment by shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing Che a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her last playful dig of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns, in uncharted territory, start NWSL season winless

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the NWSL season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage over the weekend to remain winless through their first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before.

Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, attention turns to head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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