Sports

Portland Thorns head coach resigns after self-reporting relationship with player

By John Hill (OPB)
Dec. 2, 2022 4:32 p.m. Updated: Dec. 2, 2022 4:36 p.m.

A day after Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson announced he’s selling the team, the team’s head coach announced she will resign after self-reporting a relationship with a player.

Friday morning, the team sent out a statement saying head coach Rhian Wilkinson had notified the club she is stepping down, despite being cleared of potential wrongdoing in an investigation by the National Women’s Soccer League. That investigation reportedly began late in the season and concluded as the season ended.

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Portland Thorns FC head coach Rhian Wilkinson speaks with the media following a practice, Oct. 25, 2022. Wilkinson led the team for a single season, with a record of 10-3-9, won the club’s league-best third NWSL Championship.

Portland Thorns FC head coach Rhian Wilkinson speaks with the media following a practice, Oct. 25, 2022. Wilkinson led the team for a single season, with a record of 10-3-9, won the club’s league-best third NWSL Championship.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Shortly afterward, Wilkinson tweeted out her resignation letter that stated, “During my time as the Thorns coach, a player and I formed a friendship that turned into more complex emotions.”

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“In mid-October, the player shared her feelings for me, and I reciprocated,” Wilkinson wrote. “While this was a human moment, it went no further than this expression of feelings for one another.”

Wilkinson said she and the player immediately stopped spending time outside of training together to follow National Women’s Soccer League and National Women’s Soccer League Players Association processes that protect player safety, and “to be as transparent as possible.” A week later, she said she reported herself to the team’s human resources department.

The news came after a tumultuous year in which the Thorns won their third NWSL title and an investigation found patterns of abusive behavior by male coaches toward female athletes, with team officials often hiding the problems and allowing the accused coaches to continue in the league.

In her letter, Wilkinson said once the league had finished its investigation, she informed all staff of the relationship and resulting probe and its results. They players, however, found out before she could tell them. The players asked for her resignation.

Related: Portland Thorns to be sold amid fallout from women’s soccer scandals

This story will be updated.

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