When longtime Portland Timbers and Thorns national anthem singer Madison Shanley drove downtown to meet club front office officials on Wednesday, she did so in an attempt to rejuvenate her faith in a club who she’s been singing for since she was in eighth grade.
Shanley, whose decision to wear a shirt with the words “YOU KNEW” while singing the anthem before a recent Timbers match against the LA Galaxy made her one of the club’s most visible critics, wanted a reason to continue performing with the club. But over the course of a 45 minute meeting with President of Business Mike Golub and two other club representatives, she didn’t get one.
Shanley announced on Thursday afternoon that, until significant changes are made in the club’s management, she will no longer sing the national anthem for the Timbers or Thorns.
“It’s the denial for me,” Shanley said. “It’s the lack of urgency for me. The closing statement that the group gave me was, ‘Change takes time.’ And that’s a dangerous statement. As long as change takes time, abuse will continue. And I can’t align myself with their lack of urgency.”
A Timbers spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Shanley said she went into the meeting hoping to hear the club take accountability for the two incidents that have upended it in the last seven months—first that the club allegedly covered up former Thorns manager Paul Riley’s harassment and abuse of Thorns players in 2015, then that the club was also accused of covering up a domestic violence incident involving former Timbers midfielder Andy Polo last year.
An investigation into the Polo incident by a law firm with close ties to Major League Soccer (MLS) found that the Timbers violated league rules by failing to report Polo’s citation, but did not try to coerce his estranged wife Génessis Alarcón into not pressing charges.
Shanley said that the club seemed to feel that the investigation into the Polo case is exculpatory, which she does not. Investigations aside, Shanley came with specific questions about the club’s approach to rebuilding its culture and trust with the community.
Shanley said that she asked specifically why the club has yet to hire a vice president of community and social impact, as it announced it would in March, and was told the position was open in part because of the challenges presented by the current labor market.
“They said it takes time,” Shanley said. “In my mind, I’m like, okay, how much time will it take to fulfill these initiatives? How much time will it take to take action?”
That wasn’t the only answer that left Shanley unimpressed. At one point during the meeting, she said that Golub told her that the club is donating to multiple domestic violence support organizations. When asked specifically which organizations, Golub could only name one.
Shanley said Golub was “very respectful” and that she understands the club is constrained in what it can say about the Riley case with investigations into the club’s conduct still ongoing. Still, she didn’t come away from the meeting reassured about the club’s position or leadership.
“It felt like they were giving me the same PR statements that they’ve been giving to the public—the same words that had been written into these initiatives that they've released,” Shanley said. “It didn't feel like they were looking me in the eye and speaking from the heart. It felt like they were speaking from a business perspective to somebody who was jeopardizing their business.”
Shanley, in contrast, kept the human dimension front and center. The night before the meeting, she spoke by phone with former Thorns midfielder Mana Shim—the player who filed a harassment complaint with the club against then-manager Paul Riley in the fall of 2015—and had her best friend and her sponsor accompany her into Providence Park.
“I didn’t want to go alone,” Shanley said.
Earlier this week, Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson appeared on the Soccer Made in Portland podcast, where he told the podcast hosts that “Yes, we failed to report [the Polo incident], we have to own that, but it wasn’t through trying to cover it up.”
Wilkinson said that part of the reason the Timbers re-signed Polo last winter with full knowledge of the domestic violence incident is because the club felt it could trade Polo to another MLS team—a team that presumably would not have known about the domestic violence case.
It is that kind of logic that continues to leave Shanley troubled.
“In the case of Paul Riley and Andy Polo specifically, if you don't take swift action, they simply relocate and the behavior perpetuates,” Shanley said.
Leaving the meeting, Shanley said that she felt in her “gut” that she needed to walk away from the club, but wanted to consider her decision carefully. After sleeping on it Wednesday night, she knew for sure.
She explained her decision in a lengthy email to club officials on Thursday afternoon, writing she’d hoped she “wouldn’t have to make this decision in such haste,” but wanted to give the club ample time to find a replacement anthem singer for Sunday’s Thorns match against the San Diego Wave at Providence Park.
“I take my integrity very seriously and I can no longer represent this organization,” Shanley wrote.
Shanley said she, like a number of Timbers and Thorns fans who have given up their season tickets in protest, hopes to resume her relationship with the club in the future. But until she sees the urgency and accountability she’s looking for from its management, she won’t so much as attend a match at Providence Park.
For Shanley, making that decision was one of the most painful parts of an exhausting two weeks.
“The organization and the community has meant the world to me for so long,” Shanley said. “I’m getting choked up because it’s really hard for me to step away. It’s like closing a chapter. And I hope it’s not closing it forever, but I don’t know when I’ll go back.”