Portland Soccer Fans Assert Their Power
Fans in the Rose City are bringing their protests inside the stadium.
Soccer fans in Portland continue to stand up for justice and accountability in the face of brazen evasions and PR-crafted apologies from the front office of the city’s clubs, the Timbers and Thorns. Many diehard supporters have had enough.
In the 40th minute of the Portland Timbers’ match on Saturday against Real Salt Lake, an unorthodox chant emerged: “You knew!” Fans were yelling to the world that the Timbers and Thorns front office was aware of abuse carried out against women by men inside the organization but did little to address it. Simultaneously, numerous banners suddenly surfaced in the Timbers Army supporters’ section, each hoisted up on two sticks and featuring pointed slogans directed at the front office of the Timbers and Thorns.
One banner read “Silencing Women Since 2015,” referring to the fact that when the Thorns front office opted not to renew coach Paul Riley’s contract, it knew that he had been accused of sexual coercion against his players but did nothing meaningful to stop him from joining another team, which he did shortly thereafter. Timbers and Thorns owner Merritt Paulson even took to Twitter to heap praise on Riley, posts that he later deleted.
Another sign read “This Machine Protects Abusers,” pointing to the Timbers’ subtle efforts to persuade Génessis Alarcón, the estranged partner of Timbers player Andy Polo, to not press domestic-violence charges against him. In a recent podcast interview, Timbers General Manager Gavin Wilkinson revealed that despite his knowledge of the allegations against Polo, the team not only renewed Polo’s contract but intended to trade him to another team. The Timbers acknowledged the domestic-violence situation only after Alarcón went public with her story, at which time they terminated Polo’s contract, reportedly paying it out in full.
Yet another banner read “Are You Gonna Call My Dad?” This alluded to the fact that when Timbers national anthem singer Madison Shanley showed up in a red T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “YOU KNEW” in all-caps, the club’s president of business, Mike Golub, contacted the 27-year-old’s father to try to get her to wear a different top. Not only did Shanley don the shirt to belt out the national anthem, she said that henceforth, after many years of service, she would no longer sing for the team.
Other banners stated “Fire Gavin,” “Fire Golub,” “Gaslight FC,” and “Ni Una Más” (“Not One More”), and “Sell The Team.”
Meanwhile, inside and outside the stadium, members of a new activist group—, Soccer City Accountability Now, or SCAN—handed out flyers explaining why they were taking action. “Over the last 6 months we’ve been hit with an avalanche of difficult news that leadership of our clubs have betrayed the players and their purported mission for equity and justice,” the group wrote. “Management has continuously met us with contempt, silencing and banning those who have tried to raise awareness of the abuses within our club.”
The banners were unfurled five minutes before halftime and remained aloft so Timbers players could see them on their way to the locker room. The Timbers Army’s drums, typically thumping to the rhythm of joyous singing, went silent so the “You knew” chant could be heard better.
Todd Diskin, an organizer with SCAN, emphasized how this was part of an ongoing political education project. He told us, “When we lifted the sticks and started chanting, we got a lot of eyes and cameras, but some uncertainty about what was going on. That’s why it was so important for us to make that action about education and getting the flyer out there. The after-match corner displays [outside the stadium] are equally important to accomplish this. Hopefully people who are curious to learn more are seeking out our information. I also hope that more will continue to join us.”
Many soccer fans in Portland are disillusioned by management. Supporters have invested countless hours in making the club what it is, and now they feel shortchanged, if not betrayed. Whenever the Timbers play on national television, presenters fawn over the boisterous fan base as a key intangible that makes the city a special place to play and that helped Portland earn the moniker “Soccer City USA.” Sunday White—one of the capos, the people who orchestrate soccer chants and celebrations inside the stadium—told us, “I am frustrated, upset, triggered, and find being in the stadium an internal battle between my love for the team and community and my distrust and feeling abused by the front office.”
Soccer fans in the Rose City are saying no to the misogyny factory known as the Portland Timbers and Thorns front office. Whether the men in charge are pressured to change leadership or even sell the club is more than a Portland story. It is test as to whether even the most organized fans can achieve true social power.
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