Portland Thorns coach Rhian Wilkinson resigns despite being cleared by investigation into her conduct

  • Overall, she had relinquished the trust of the team. Despite being exonerated from any wrongdoing, Wilkinson informed The Athletic on Thursday that she stepped down after the inquiry.
  • Wilkinson conveyed the Thorns’ emotions for one another through self-reported messages exchanged between her and a Thorns athlete. Nevertheless, she maintained that there was no improper connection between her and the player.
  • Wilkinson, after a thorough three-week inquiry conducted collaboratively by the NWSL and NWSLPA, was determined to have not breached any league or team regulations.
  • To prevent any speculation, Emily Menges, the athlete, informed The Athletic that she took part in the inquiry and desired to be recognized.
  • A letter was dispatched to NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman by Thorns players on November 20th, expressing their apprehensions about Wilkinson and Menges to both the team and the league. Furthermore, the letter raised doubts about the comprehensiveness of the inquiry and possible repercussions if Wilkinson were to maintain her position.
  • After completing the three-week investigation into Wilkinson’s behavior, the league determined that no regulations were violated.

    Berman stated, “The Portland Thorns and Coach Wilkinson abided by all league procedures and guidelines and fully collaborated with this inquiry.” “The collaborative investigative team carried out a comprehensive investigation that led to a conclusion of no breach of League policies.”

    Two sources familiar with the investigation’s findings, but not authorized to comment on the issue, have confirmed that Wilkinson will not face any disqualification from future NWSL endeavors.

    Some of the Thorns players were not satisfied with the conclusions of the investigation. However, in November, players sent a letter to chief legal officer Bill Ordower and Berman, expressing concerns about the inherent power imbalance between a coach and a player.

    The general manager of Thorns, Karina LeBlanc, was already informed by the team that an investigation had concluded and no legal wrongdoing had occurred. Additionally, a group of players, as stated in a letter, already knew about the relationship and reported it.

    The letter expressed concerns about the communication coach’s inappropriate retaliation or possible retaliation, specifically regarding how it was handled with other players. It also questioned whether the proper reporting procedures were followed and the thoroughness of the investigation.

    At the same time, there are concerns from a number of players on the team as to the thoroughness of the investigation and the process.

    Players sent a letter to NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman on Nov. 20 about those concerns.

    (Full text also here: https://t.co/YqNVdxqcgp) pic.twitter.com/fnyXgeZkhr

    — Meg Linehan (@itsmeglinehan) December 2, 2022

    The reason behind the initiation of the investigation

    Menges stated, “We harbored mutual emotions and promptly recognized the necessity to respond as a boundary had been exceeded. It was promptly agreed upon that we would refrain from interacting outside of soccer.”

    Menges said that she decided to follow the process of the investigation, including not speaking to any staff team members to avoid influencing their appearance, and cutting off all communication with Wilkinson.

    Wilkinson informed Portland’s human resources department about the exchange between her and Menges, as stated in her interview with The Athletic.

    “(Confidentially) There was no communication between us, and within a week, something happened that I wanted to make clear, ” stated Wilkinson. “If there had been any prior relationship or any form of communication, I would have strongly expressed my feelings because I gave all my email communications and text messages.”

    Wilkinson said that her own experience, based on interviews with the legal teams, was a key part of investigating the potential imbalance of power.

    Menges stated, “I want to put my name on this, as there is a very equal situation that people want to understand. However, if there is no imbalance of power, then there isn’t.”

    “The investigation’s result was not the deciding factor in Wilkinson’s decision to step down, but rather the fact that I lost the locker room, which there is no return to.”

    Wilkinson stated, “I gave them everything. That is not only a concern, but the processes that have been put in place by the players themselves. My huge concern is that it’s all gone now, for whatever reason. When I’m in the locker room, I can live with the fact that I can’t communicate with the players who were there just a long time ago. That’s why I couldn’t salvage my time in Portland, because I wasn’t recognized for why I’m so.”

    Wilkinson continued, “There are still stones left unturned that I want to explore. I didn’t want to be exonerated just because I am a female. I wanted the case to be examined as an individual matter. I strongly felt that I had done everything correctly and as thoroughly as possible, but I am very concerned about the potential consequences and what will happen moving forward. I truly believe that this is one of the most innocent cases ever, and I am deeply committed to finding out the truth.”


    If it rises to the level of breaking any laws, the league’s anti-harassment policy also covers emotional misconduct, abuse, and other forms of harassment. In order to eliminate and prevent workplace bullying and harassment, the NWSL’s policy is under the joint investigation committee’s handling of Wilkinson’s case, as they have handled other reports.

    Yates Q. Sally, a former Deputy U.S. Attorney, led an independent investigation into allegations of emotional and sexual abuse concerning Riley, the former head coach of the Portland soccer team. The story came to light last year following intense scrutiny by The Athletic and the league.

    On Thursday, team owner Merritt Paulson announced his plan to sell the Thorns. This decision by Paulson came in response to numerous requests from fans and certain players. Paulson had previously distanced himself from any involvement with the club after the Yates report was published.