The Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns announced a dozen initiatives related to what the teams called “accountability, engagement and equity,” on Wednesday.
Among the proposals are plans to hire a VP of Community and Social Impact, and a compliance-focused position to bolster its legal and Human Resources departments. The teams are also partnering with a local, BIPOC-owned firm called WorkPlace Change to assess and guide the organization’s inclusion and diversity efforts.
The organization will also use expanded background checks in hiring, conduct discrimination education training for staff, as well as SafeSport training “designed to help individuals become more proficient at identifying, preventing and responding to misconduct and abuse in sport.”
“This plan is a comprehensive series of new initiatives and new practices,” the Timber and Thorns said in a statement. “Some we’ve already implemented; others we’re committed to implementing this season. The plan will guide us now and, in the future, to ensure the utmost health, wellbeing, safety and respect for our players and everyone else associated with our clubs.”
The announcement comes in the wake of two instances where the Timbers and Thorns organization was criticized for mishandling multiple allegations that employees engaged in the abuse of women.
Last October, The Athletic reported that while he was manager of the Thorns in 2014-15, Paul Riley engaged in the sexual coercion of two players. Riley’s contract wasn’t renewed by Portland, but he was allowed to coach elsewhere in the NWSL, including the North Carolina Courage. Riley was fired by the Courage after the story came out.
In May of last year, then-Timbers midfielder Andy Polo was cited by the Washington County Sheriff’s Department “for harassment after grabbing” the wrist of his estranged wife, Génessis Alarcón. The citation is classified as a B misdemeanor, but the Timbers never reported the incident to MLS, as is required by the league’s constitution.
MLS launched an investigation into the Timbers’ handling of Polo incident — conducted by the firm Proskauer Rose, which has a longstanding business relationship with MLS — that concluded the Timbers didn’t induce or pressure Alarcón to forego charges against Polo, as she had alleged.
This was despite the fact that a lawyer retained by the Timbers to represent Polo, Christine Mascal, met with Alarcón and, according to an audio recording of the meeting, not only discussed the amount of financial support from Polo to Alarcón and her children, but Mascal said she hoped Alarcón wouldn’t press charges.
Neither Alarcón nor the Washington County District Attorney’s office decided to pursue criminal charges against Polo, with the DA citing lack of evidence.
The investigation into the Timbers also concluded that the reason the organization failed to report the Polo incident to the league was due to a lack of knowledge of league rules and wasn’t intended as a cover up. The league still fined the Timbers $25,000.
The two incidents and their aftermath have frayed relations between fans and the front office of the organization. In response, the Timbers and Thorns organization has pledged to “offer more ways to engage with the club and increase transparency.”