Portland Thorns head coach Rhian Wilkinson has resigned from her post after an investigation into her conduct.
The former Canada international said she had reported herself to the Thorns last season, and the club then passed the information on to the National Women’s Soccer League. Wilkinson said that she and one of her players had developed “feelings for one another” but the relationship went no further. The NSWL and the league’s Players’ Association then investigated the matter.
“In an effort to follow NWSL and NWSLPA processes to protect player safety, and to be as transparent as possible, the player and I immediately stopped spending time outside of training together, and soon after stopped all communication outside of work,” Wilkinson wrote in a statement. “In less than a week, I reported myself to human resources to make sure I had not crossed any ethical lines.”
The investigation exonerated Wilkinson of any wrongdoing but she has still chosen to step down.
“The Portland Thorns and Coach Wilkinson followed all League processes and policies and fully cooperated with this investigation,” NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement. “The joint investigative team conducted a thorough investigation that resulted in a finding of no violation of League policies.”
However, Wilkinson said that her players had lost faith in her. “Once you’ve lost the locker room, which I have, there’s no return,” she told The Athletic.
Wilkinson’s resignation comes at a tumultuous time for the NWSL after a report found that sexual and emotional abuse was widespread across the league. Former Thorns coach Paul Riley was accused of sexual misconduct by several players. On Thursday, Thorns owner Merritt Paulson said he is putting the club up for sale.
Wilkinson was a successful coach on the field: she led the Thorns to the NWSL title in October. She won 181 caps and two Olympic bronze medals as a player with Canada.
“I would like to thank the Portland Thorns organization, the fans, the staff and most importantly the players for a remarkable year,” Wilkinson wrote in her statement on Friday. “During my time in Portland I have met some incredible people and been fortunate enough to coach some of the best players in the game.”