Rhian Wilkinson, NWSL's 2022 championship-winning coach, exits Portland Thorns

Rhian Wilkinson became head coach of the Portland Thorns on Nov. 29, 2021 and on Oct. 29, 2022 won the NWSL championship. Her resignation was announced on Dec. 2.

On Nov. 20, unnamed Thorns players sent a letter to NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman questioning the thoroughness of a three-week investigation by the NWSL and NWSLPA (the players union) into Wilkinson that "resulted in a finding of no violation of League policies.”

The investigation was prompted by Wilkinson self-reporting an exchange of texts messages between her and a Thorns player.

"It went no further than expressing feelings for each other," reads the statement by Wilkinson. "... I reported myself to Human Resources to make sure I had not crossed any lines."

Berman said that the "joint investigative team conducted a thorough investigation" and that "the Portland Thorns and Coach Wilkinson followed all League processes and policies and fully cooperated with this investigation."

Wilkinson's resignation went public a day after Merritt Paulson announced he's putting the Portland Thorns up for sale.

The Athletic reported that Wilkinson submitted her emails and texts going back to January to the investigative team that included the independent legal team run by Covington & Burling hired by the NWSL, and the legal team from Weil Gotshal representing the players association. Wilkinson was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Wilkinson said in her statement that the players asked for her resignation.

“Once you’ve lost the locker room, which I have, there’s no return,” said Wilkinson in Meg Linehan and Steph Yang's article in the The Athletic. "So that’s why I recognized my time in Portland couldn’t be salvaged a long time ago, because there were players who just wouldn’t communicate with me."

Linehan also spoke with Emily Menges, the 30-year-old Thorns player with whom Wilkinson, 40, had exchanged texts.

“If you’re going to believe players like we’ve been preaching for the last year — longer — then you can’t just pick and choose which players you want to believe,” said Menges.

Menges is also an elected member of the NWSLPA who has been involved in collective bargaining and increasing players' rights and influence on issues including investigations.

The unnamed players' letter to Berman and NWSL Chief Legal Officer Bill Ordower included: "... out of concern for the well-being of our teammate, a group of players chose to report this relationship to our General Manager, Karina LeBlanc." Being informed that an investigation found no wrongdoing "left us feeling unsettled and unsafe."

Menges told The Athletic: “If there’s no imbalance of power, which there isn’t, then I do want to put my name on this as like, ‘No, this is a very equal situation.’ I want people to understand that.”

Only Christine Sinclair has appeared in more games for the Portland Thorns than Menges, who joined the club in 2014. (Wilkinson was a Thorns teammate in 2015.) Menges signed contract extensions in January 2021 and again in July 2022, a deal through the 2024 season. She was an NWSL Best XI in 2016, and second Best XI in 2017 and 2018.

After starting 20 straight games in a row in the 2021 season under Coach Mark Parsons, Menges played in five games under Wilkinson in 2022 and did not see playoff action as the Thorns won their record third NWSL title.

“I felt very strongly that I had done everything as correctly as possible,” Wilkinson told The Athletic, “but the fact that there will still be consequences, I’m very concerned about what happens moving forward because I truly believe this is one of the most innocent cases they’re ever going to get.”

Rhian Wilkinson statement.

The Athletic reporting  Meg Linehan and Steph Yang: Portland Thorns coach Rhian Wilkinson resigns despite being cleared by investigation into her conduct
Nov. 20 letter: sent by unnamed players to NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman and Bill Ordower.
• Portland Thorns statement.

2 comments about "Rhian Wilkinson, NWSL's 2022 championship-winning coach, exits Portland Thorns".
  1. cony konstin, December 3, 2022 at 7:32 a.m.

    The problem is the that the coverup is worse than the crime. This statesman said it best.... "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing". Edmund Burke 1790

  2. John Polis, December 3, 2022 at 2:15 p.m.

    I read the story, and then I read the statement. So that I have this straight: Is this really about a personal relationship between coach and player that went South? If so, this was probably another bad hire by the Thorns who made a bad decision by getting involved with one of the players. I'm sure this is more than what meets the eye but when you blur the lines of authority, it's nothing but a recipe for trouble.

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