Madison Shanley first auditioned to sing the national anthem for the Portland Beavers at what was then PGE Park all the way back in 2008. She was a middle schooler.
Shanley impressed in the audition. She started singing the anthem for the Merritt Paulson-owned Beavers, and then, in 2009, sang her first anthem for Paulson’s Portland Timbers. Shanley has been singing the anthem ever since—through the Timbers’ elevation to Major League Soccer, two major stadium renovations, two MLS Cup appearances, and every up and down of her adult life.
“I’ve essentially grown up with the organization,” Shanley said. “I was in eighth grade when I auditioned, and now I’m 27 years old.”
In many ways, Shanley is like countless other Timbers supporters. She found a home with the club when it was still a minor league outfit playing in a baseball stadium, and was with it as it became one of the most recognizable soccer clubs in the country. Now, she’s fed up.
When Shanley arrived at Providence Park last Sunday to sing the anthem before the Timbers’ nationally-televised match against the LA Galaxy, she arrived in a bright red shirt that said “YOU KNEW”—a reference to the club’s handling of two cases of serious misconduct by soccer personnel.
In September, The Athletic reported that former Portland Thorns manager Paul Riley had harassed, intimidated, and sexually coerced Thorns players. After one player reported Riley’s misconduct, the club declined to renew his contract but never specified why. Riley went on to coach for other NWSL clubs, while exchanging friendly tweets with Paulson.
Then in February, it emerged that Timbers midfielder Andy Polo had been cited for a misdemeanor in Washington County for an incident of domestic violence. The Timbers terminated Polo’s contract, but only after his estranged wife Génessis Alarcón made the allegations public.
The “YOU KNEW” slogan, which first appeared at Providence Park in the days following the Riley revelations, channels the simple message that the club did not do everything in its power to hold the alleged abusers in its ranks accountable.
Shanley first wore a supporter-made “YOU KNEW” shirt on the field for a Thorns game last October. Since then, the Thorns supporter group, the Rose City Riveters, have begun printing red “YOU KNEW” shirts with the proceeds going to Portland’s Rose Haven day shelter and community center.
Shanley bought a new shirt and knew what she had to do.
“It occured to me that I had an opportunity here,” she told the Mercury. “As someone who has experienced domestic violence, and the court system, and sexual assault, I couldn’t stay silent in regards to what's been happening and how it's been managed.”
When Shanley walked into the stadium on Sunday, she was fully prepared to be stopped from singing the anthem at all. But what happened was, she said, in some ways more characteristic of how the club has handled itself under Paulson’s leadership.
When he became aware of Shanley’s plan, Timbers President of Business Mike Golub called Shanley’s father Terry, a friend from their time serving together on the Oregon Sports Authority, and asked him to ask his adult daughter to change her attire.
Golub, who through a Timbers spokesperson declined to speak to the Mercury for this story, told ESPN that he contacted Shanley’s father because he didn’t have Shanley’s phone number. Shanley said that explanation rang hollow.
“Everybody in that organization has a way to contact me,” Shanley said. “There are several people that have my phone number. If he wanted to contact me via cell phone, he could have.”
Instead, Terry Shanley called and texted his daughter, relaying Golub’s message that Shanley’s wearing the shirt would be a “middle-finger to the organization.” Shanley said she felt “disrespected” by Golub’s decision to go through her father to communicate with her.
“He could have and should have talked to me first,” Shanley said. “But he made his decision to reach out to my father, who is one of the most important and influential people in my life. And having that added layer of pressure… to have my dad be the mouthpiece for Mike Golub was really difficult for me.”
Golub eventually sought out Shanley to communicate the “risk” she was taking by wearing the shirt. He also asked Shanley whether she had read an MLS-commissioned investigation into the club’s handling of the Polo incident that found that the club had not pressured Alarcón to not pursue charges.
Shanley replied that she had.
“I have done my research,” Shanley said she told Golub. “I am blown away by what I’ve found, and what I thought was this beautiful, loving, supportive community of people is, in fact, just a business that doesn’t think about the humans that are involved in these scenarios.”
Shanley said she had an “emotional breakdown,” then pulled herself together, went onto the field, sang the anthem, and went home.
Hours later, as her act of protest was receiving attention across the country, she received a call from a club representative telling her that the club intended to invite her back to sing and offered to sit down with her to further discuss her concerns.
Shanley is currently scheduled to sing the national anthem ahead of the Thorns’ April 17 match against San Diego. She isn’t yet sure whether she wants to continue appearing on behalf of the club, but if she does, it will be in that red “YOU KNEW” shirt.
“Longstanding season ticket holders are giving up their tickets,” Shanley said. “There are people not coming to the games because they want to impact the business. So I’m just an anthem singer, but my… presence creates even more of a movement.”
What remains troubling for Shanley is the club’s defensive posture towards those calling for accountability in the Riley and Polo cases. Shanley said that Golub, for instance, seemed to believe that the Polo investigation was exculpatory. She isn’t so sure it was.
The investigation into the club’s handling of the Polo case was conducted by the firm Proskauer Rose, which has a decades-long business relationship with MLS and its subsidiaries and boasts in its handbook that it “helped” the league expand into Portland with the Paulson family.
MLS ultimately fined the Timbers $25,000 for the club’s failure to report the Polo incident to the league, which the report chalked up to a good-faith misinterpretation of league rules by Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson and the club’s lawyers and not a deliberate club cover-up.
Given that Paulson has previously been fined $100,000 for criticizing league officiating, a $25,000 fine is a relative pittance—especially given that the Timbers retained a lawyer for Polo who was recorded discussing Polo’s financial support of Alacrón and saying that they hoped she would decide not to press charges in the case. The report also failed to address the Timbers’ decision to renew Polo’s contract last winter despite full knowledge of the domestic violence incident.
“Apologies are just apologies,” Shanley said. “There are no justifications for the behavior. And in my eyes, the front office has done nothing but say... ‘We’re sorry, but here are some initiatives that we’re putting out to the public.’ It seems like virtue-signaling to me, because ultimately they’re still trying to silence people.”
Shanley said that she will schedule a meeting with club officials in the coming days and come prepared with questions about both the Riley and Polo cases. The conversation she is more looking forward to, however, is one with Mana Shim—the Thorns midfielder who reported Paul Riley’s harassment to the club back in 2015.
“I got a DM on Instagram from Mana Shim [after singing the anthem],” Shanley said. “And she said, ‘Hey Madison, I wanted to reach out and say thank you for doing what you did. It meant a lot to me.’”
Shim left her phone number and told Shanley to call or text anytime. For Shanley, it was a sign that she had done the right thing in speaking out—and that the fight for accountability and progress at Providence Park is far from over.
“There’s hope,” Shanley said. “There’s so much hope amidst all of the negativity in the systems that we live under. The people will always stand up for what is right.”