For the Glory KC is back with the 67th episode of the podcast but it’s going to be a little different than usual.
Sporting Kansas City made headlines this week with the hiring of Gavin Wilkinson as the team’s new Sporting Director. It’s a search we didn’t hear about until the hire was made. Peter Vermes gave up his title but got a new one — Chief Soccer Officer. Wilkinson will report to Vermes, even though it’s often the other way around with a coach/manager and the Sporting Director.
For the podcast this week, instead of doing our cheery, usual thing, we’ve decided to dive deeper into the Wilkinson hire. No digital crawl. No KC Current news (why drag them into this). No news on other signings or happenings around the team or the league. That will come at another time (maybe). This is dedicated to Wilkinson’s history that led us to this place today.
Because not everyone wants to listen to us talk for an hour, I’ll put a portion of the podcast details in writing, so they can live here forever (full podcast below if you prefer to listen).
What I will tell you about myself is I’m an ‘evidence guy.’ While I wrote the initial ‘news’ piece of the report of Wilkinson’s hire, I tried to minimize how much my opinion was in that story. After spending many hours reading the Yates Report and other sources, I feel confident in my final position. But you can decide for yourself.
I will tell you this is by far the most research I’ve put into a podcast that is usually just a husband and wife talking about the teams they love. I’m tired, but I hope it was worth it! It’s been a mentally draining four days since the announcement.
Before we dig into some of the background of this story, it’s important we know a little more about the people involved in the story. Not full bios, but enough to get the gist of what is going on.
Sporting KC’s newest Sporting Director joins after being fired by the Portland Timbers/Thorns after the release of the Yates Report in 2022. He held various titles with Portland’s teams including General Manager and President of Soccer Operations.
Former coach of the Portland Thorns and Western New York Flash/North Carolina Courage. He was fired in September 2021 on the heels of an expose by The Athletic. They found over a decade of allegations from sexual coercion to mental abuse of his players, and many other things in between. He’s serving a lifetime ban from the NWSL.
Former NWSL Commissioner from 2014 until he resigned in March of 2017. He wrote an email to the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) that is the basis of many of the quotes you’ve likely heard about Wilkinson.
Former coach and Vice President of the WNY Flash (former NWSL team that’s now the NC Courage).
Current owner of the Portland Timbers and former owner of the Portland Thorns.
A report commissioned by US Soccer, who had an interest in the NWSL at the time, to investigate the allegations against Riley and other coaches and people connected to the NWSL after the story from The Athletic broke. [FULL REPORT]
This won’t be all encompassing, but instead will focus more closely on the Yates Report and how things tie to Wilkinson. The podcast itself will delve a little into the Andy Polo situation as well.
- December 5, 2013 – After the Portland Thorns play the inaugural NWSL season, Paul Riley becomes the coach.
- September 16, 2015 – Wilkinson is made aware of the complaints by Portland Thorns player Mana Shim, via email of alleged misconduct by Riley (the same day as Paulson, Plush and some others at USSF).
- Sept. 23, 2015 – After Portland did an investigation, Riley was fired.
- February 16, 2016 – USSF becomes aware WNY are going to hire Paul Riley. NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush emails USSF that it’s “not good news.”
- Feb. 19, 2016 – Riley hired by the WNY Flash.
- May 23, 2021 – Allegations of domestic abuse made against Timbers’ player Andy Polo. Two Portland Timbers employees respond to the scene along with the Police. Police cite Polo with a misdemeanor.
- September 30, 2021 – The Athletic publish an expose on Paul Riley.
- October 2021 – US Soccer hires Sally Q. Yates and the firm King & Spalding to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations against Riley that expands to many others in NWSL.
- December 13, 2021 – Portland triggers Polo’s contract option for 2022.
- Feb. 18, 2022 – The Athletic runs a story that Portland never reported the domestic violence incident involving Polo to MLS, as required by league rules. The week prior, when the news had gone public of the domestic abuse allegation, MLS launched an investigation.
- March 29, 2022 – The Timbers are fined $25,000 for failure to report the Polo situation. The firm the league hired declares it was incompetence and not malicious.
- Oct. 3, 2022 – Yates report released.
- Oct. 5, 2022 – Wilkinson fired by Portland.
- January 11, 2024 – Sporting KC announce they hired Wilkinson as Sporting Director.
Wilkinson’s Own Interview with the Yates Report
Over the remainder of the podcast, Sheena and I give our thoughts on the hire and go deeper into the evidence, including quotes from the Yates Report. Part of the report is an interview that Gavin Wilkinson gave. During the press conference with Sporting KC, Wilkinson denied many of the negative quotes given against him by Jeff Plush and others in the report. But it’s his own interview that is perhaps the most damaging to Wilkinson’s case, even if it’s not filled with all the salacious quotes. In a summary of a portion of his interview, the report says:
Wilkinson recalled speaking on the phone with [WNY Flash VP Aaran] Lines and agreed that his message to Lines was—other than the reason why Wilkinson fired him—Riley was a good coach, and Wilkinson would hire him again.
When he had the chance to tell the Western New York Flash, ‘I wouldn’t hire him,’ he didn’t. According to The Athletic, “Some of [Riley’s] disturbing behavior persists [after leaving Portland], two players said, especially commenting on players’ weight and bodies. And another Long Island retreat* took place during a break in the 2016 season.” Wilkinson had the chance to play his part in preventing continued abuse from Paul Riley, and he didn’t.
*From The Athletic: “In 2015 and 2016, [Riley] held week-long “retreats” at his 10,992-square-foot home on Long Island. Players swam in his pool and drank alcohol he provided. Many women said these were not voluntary gatherings; when they or their teammates tried to go somewhere else during the week (to New York City for a night or to visit family or friends nearby), Riley told them they were not allowed to leave.”
Sheena and I also discuss the lack of scope of Portland’s investigation, the SKC press conference and our opinions on everything around the situation.
Gavin Wilkinson answering a question from @HaroldRKuntz3 about second chances.
— Chad Smith (@PlayFor90) January 11, 2024
Here is a quick rundown of topics (and approximate start times):
- Gavin Wilkinson – 02:33
- Timeline – 05:13
- Brief Andy Polo Summary – 23:29
- We weigh in – 26:55
Spotify took away our ads, so we turned on “Listener Support.” Don’t feel obligated, but if you have a few spare bucks and a fan of the pod, we’d appreciate your donation.
Big thanks to Splitter Conspiracy (listen to them here) for our theme music made with the permission of the KC Cauldron.
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Update 1/15/2024: The original version of this story said Paul Riley was the coach for the first Portland Thorns season, but he became the coach after it.