Thorns place GM Gavin Wilkinson on leave amid Paul Riley investigation

Portland Thorns and Timbers owner Merritt Paulson talks with Thorns/Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson in 2018. (Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

The Portland Thorns have placed general manager Gavin Wilkinson on administrative leave pending the results of an ongoing independent investigation, the team announced Wednesday.

The Thorns were at the center of a report in The Athletic last week that detailed allegations of sexual coercion and emotional abuse against former coach Paul Riley.

The Thorns’ decision came down within an hour of the team’s players releasing a statement in which they demanded Wilkinson be placed on leave “until the process concludes.” The players’ other demands are for more diverse voices within the club’s executive board and for the players themselves to be a part of front-office discussions in order to “increase transparency, accountability, and cooperation.”

A day earlier, the Thorns’ supporters groups announced a boycott, calling on the team to remove Wilkinson.

Thorns owner Merritt Paulson released a statement Monday in response to The Athletic’s report. Portland severed ties with Riley in 2015 after conducting an internal investigation into his conduct. At the time, it was believed the team did not renew Riley’s contract because of poor on-field results. Paulson has since said the Thorns terminated Riley and has apologized for the team’s role in the scandal.

The Thorns have faced increasing pressure to discipline Wilkinson, who was with the Thorns in 2015. In addition to the supporters groups, NWSL players have voiced similar feelings. Sources told Just Women’s Sports that there were calls for Wilkinson to be fired during a players discussion last week.

The suspension of Wilkinson comes amid a league-wide reckoning over player protection and rights. The NWSL, US Soccer and FIFA have each opened investigations into the league in response to the allegations made against Riley, while league commissioner Lisa Baird resigned last Friday.