Megan Rapinoe says owners of Thorns, Red Stars 'need to be gone' after report on NWSL abuse

Megan Rapinoe called for the ouster of the owners of the NWSL's Portland Thorns and Chicago Red Stars on Thursday in the wake of a damning report that revealed systemic and pervasive abuse.

Thorns owner Merritt Paulson and Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler both were told repeatedly that their coaches were abusing players and did nothing about it, according to the report issued Monday by former U.S. Attorney Sally Yates.

“I don’t think Merritt Paulson is fit to be the owner of that team. I don’t think Arnim is fit to be the owner of Chicago. We need to see those people gone,” Rapinoe said at a news conference ahead of the U.S. women’s sold-out game against England at Wembley Stadium on Friday.

Later Thursday, the U.S. women announced that they and England players will wear teal armbands as a show of solidarity with sexual assault survivors. The game against the Lionesses is a watershed event for women's soccer, featuring the reigning World Cup champion USWNT against European champion England, and the expected crowd of about 90,000 would be the second-largest ever to see a women's soccer game.

"To be here at Wembley and be able to participate in this game, which is so exciting, the juxtaposition is kind of ridiculous," Rapinoe said. "We’re angry, we’re exhausted, together, unified. So it’s kind of all of it."

OPINION: Details of NWSL abuse leaves me with one question: How dare you?

MORE: Thorns, Red Stars owners need to go in light of damning report on abuse in NWSL

Paulson, who also owns the Timbers of the MLS, stepped back from the Thorns on Tuesday pending the results of a joint investigation by the NWSL and the NWSL Players Association. The Red Stars board of directors removed Whisler as chair on Wednesday, and the team told the Chicago Sun-Times that the board wants to “help facilitate a sale of Arnim’s shares.”

Yates’ report revealed a culture of abuse throughout the NWSL and U.S. Soccer. Players with multiple teams reported verbal and emotional abuse as well as sexual harassment and sexual coercion by coaches and team officials, yet little, if anything, was done. Abuse by Paul Riley, one of the NWSL’s most prominent coaches, and Rory Dames, the longest-tenured coach in the league, became public last fall in reports by The Athletic and the Washington Post.

OL Reign forward Megan Rapinoe holds the ball after a game against the New Jersey/New York Gotham FC at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey on Sept. 21, 2022.
OL Reign forward Megan Rapinoe holds the ball after a game against the New Jersey/New York Gotham FC at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey on Sept. 21, 2022.

By the end of 2021, five teams — half the league at the time — had parted ways with their coaches because of abuse complaints.

“They didn’t protect players at all amidst year after year after year — it’s impossible to overstate that every single year, someone said something about multiple coaches in the league and the environments,” Rapinoe said.

“I know I wouldn’t be in my position if I couldn’t perform my duties year after year.”

While U.S. Soccer has said it will implement the recommendations from Yates, Rapinoe said there also needs to be personal accountability for those who repeatedly failed players.

“None of those people have shown they deserve to be around this beautiful game because they can’t even do the basic responsibilities of their job,” she said. “(Accountability is needed) to signal to players that we’re being heard. That we are being respected and action is being taken."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Megan Rapinoe calls for NWSL owners to be removed after reports