[The following article describes acts of domestic violence.—eds]
The Portland Timbers organization is, once again, under fire for its response to a report of serious misconduct against one of its employees.
On Tuesday, Timbers midfielder Andy Polo’s former partner Génessis Alarcón appeared on the Peruvian television show Magaly TV La Firme, where she alleged that Polo had physically harmed both her and their children and had stopped paying child support.
“He pulled my hair, I fell to the floor, he slapped me, and gave me a black eye,” Alarcón said. Later in the program, Alarcón showed photographs of herself allegedly taken after an incident of domestic violence.
Polo denied the allegations, but was immediately suspended by Major League Soccer, pending an investigation into the allegations, and removed from all Timbers activities. The club said it would have no further comment on the matter.
Then, on Thursday morning, the Timbers terminated Polo’s contract—confirming that the club was “aware of a dispute” between the player and Alarcón in May of last year that resulted in the Washington County Sheriff’s Office citing Polo for harassment.
“We deeply regret not suspending Polo immediately, especially considering the troubling new details of abuse that surfaced this week,” the club statement read. “It was a failure on our part, and one that will never happen again.”
The statement, which concluded with information on how to contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, was not attributable to any one person.
According to a police report, on May 23, 2021, Alacrón’s friend told 911 dispatchers that her husband was hitting her. Law enforcement arrived on the scene first, followed by two Timbers officials—manager of player affairs Gabriel James, and director of security Jim McCausland, a former Portland police officer.
“[McCausland] told me he would make sure that peace would be maintained inside the house,” the police report reads. “He said if he needed to move Andy or Genesis out of the home to maintain safety and security, he would take care of it. He assured me no further incidents would take place.”
Washington County Sheriff’s deputy Adam Weishaar cited Polo for harassment for grabbing Alacrón’s wrist. At the time, Polo, who missed much of the 2021 season due to injury, faced no publicly announced discipline from the club.
Not only did the Timbers keep Polo on their roster for the remainder of the 2021 season, but they then, with full knowledge of the harassment citation, extended his contract in December to cover the coming season.
The Timbers said in their statement that they were only made aware of “new details of abuse” this week. It is not known whether the Timbers ever investigated Polo last year.
The club’s handling of Polo has enraged a number of supporters who were already infuriated last October when The Athletic published a story detailing allegations of harassment, intimidation, and coercion of players by former Portland Thorns manager Paul Riley.
In that case, the club investigated and fired Riley after former midfielder Mana Shim filed a complaint about his conduct, but never said publicly that his departure had anything to do with off-the-field matters. Shortly after Riley’s departure, the club jettisoned Shim and Sinead Farrelly, another Thorns player who Riley also allegedly harassed.
Shortly after the allegations against Riley were made public, Timbers and Thorns owner Merritt Paulson wrote an open letter to fans announcing that the club “can and must do better.”
“Let me be unequivocal in saying that I as team owner and we as an organization disavow the culture of silence that may have allowed for additional victimization by a predatory coach, whose actions we forcefully condemn,” Paulson wrote then.
The Timbers are just weeks away from beginning their 2022 season with a nationally televised home game against the New England Revolution, and are in open conflict with their supporters group as questions continue to swirl about the fitness of the owner and general manager to continue in their roles.
On Thursday, ESPN pundit Sebastian Salazar openly questioned whether Paulson in particular can continue.
“I know this is not comfortable for people, because Merritt Paulson is a guy a lot of people like, because he goes on social media, and, as far as MLS owners go, he’s pretty accessible,” Salazar said. “But the reality is, there is no evidence, either with the Timbers or with the Thorns, that Merritt Paulson is fit to be an owner in American soccer.”
General manager Gavin Wilkinson, who has been under fire for his handling of the Riley allegations, will be under scrutiny for his handling of Polo as well—particularly, as the club’s top ranking soccer official, regarding his decision to renew Polo’s contract if he knew about the harassment.
For now, it is unclear whether the club is prepared to address what is clearly a systemic problem in its handling of allegations of abuse—and how many supporters will continue to support the club in the meantime.
On Thursday, the Timbers Army began selling shirts with the slogan “YOU KNEW” on them. They sold out in hours.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation and needs help, contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline.