The Portland Timbers just did something almost no other pro team would do

The Portland Timbers just did something almost no other pro team would do

Portland Timbers CEO Heather Davis just gave other pro sports teams a master class in how to handle problematic people tied to the club and, according to her, it wasn’t even a tough decision.

After The Oregonian published a story about allegations that the CEO of corporate sponsor DaBella, Donnie McMillan, sexually harassed women working for him, the Timbers quickly cut ties with the company, despite a seven-figure uniform sponsorship deal. Though the MLS club only learned of the allegations on Tuesday, the Timbers will have erased all evidence of DaBella from Providence Park and the team’s uniforms by the time fans arrive for a match against D.C. United on Saturday.

Davis said that after learning of the allegations against McMillan, “Donnie denied all of the allegations. We had a very frank and emphatic conversation. It’s not my job to determine whether he was being truthful or not. My job is to make sure this organization reflects the values of this community.”

Davis’ quick and decisive action to sever relations with DaBella, a national home improvement chain with locations mostly in the western United States, was noteworthy considering that both the Timbers and the Portland NWSL team, the Thorns, have been rocked by scandals in recent years. The Thorns made national news when it came out that coach Paul Riley was allowed to continue coaching in the NWSL, despite credible allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment levied against him by players, and led to the Yates Report, which investigated abuse and harassment in women’s soccer.

Meanwhile, in 2022, the Timbers fired head coach Andy Polo after his partner claimed on Peruvian television that Polo had become physically violent with her and that the Timbers sent their head of security to the residence to mediate what was allegedly a domestic violence incident. The team never reported the allegations to the league and were eventually fined for not doing so. It then came out that then-Timbers CEO Gavin Wilkinson had signed Polo to a contract extension despite the allegations of domestic abuse. There’s a lot more to both stories, and you can read an excellent summary of the events leading up to Davis’ 2023 hiring here.

Davis’ decision to leave DaBella behind is especially refreshing, given the Timbers’ history, but it’s an example that more teams should follow when it comes to handling #MeToo allegations. It’s difficult to imagine, say, an NFL team cutting ties with a prominent sponsor over reports that the company’s CEO sexually harassed female employees. If any team beat reporter even dared to ask about such a thing (something that’s becoming increasingly rare in the age of access journalism and pro sports teams’ “partnerships” with media outlets — but, honestly, can you imagine Adam Schefter asking Jerry Jones why he hasn’t cut ties with a huge sponsor over allegations of sexual harassment? I can not), either the media coordinator handling the questions would shut it down, or we’d get some milquetoast hemming and hawing from the GM/owner about the team “waiting for all the evidence to come in” or “keeping an eye on it,” and eventually the whole thing would be forgotten. Because most lawsuits eventually settle out of court without an admission of wrongdoing, it gives everyone the perfect excuse to throw their hands in the air and say “who knows what the truth is? It never went to trial.” Rinse and repeat.

It’s far rarer for a sports executive to do what Davis did — learn of the allegations, sit down face to face with the accused and see what they have to say, then make a determination as to whether the team should be associated with such a person, money and consequences be damned. It harkens back to Ted Lasso’s Rebecca Welton turning down vast sums of money to sever AFC Richmond’s relationship with Dubai Air, after Sam Obisanya explains that their sponsor’s parent company, Cerithium Oil, is polluting the Nigerian coastline. It’s one of those moments you see on TV, but never expect to see in real life — especially when the victims are women.

The #MeToo movement took off in earnest in 2017 and led to a host of abusive men, most notably Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer, being yoinked out of their jobs and, in Weinstein’s case, yeeted right into prison. But in the years since, pushback against #MeToo has started to grow, with some complaining that the movement “went too far” and that men were branded as sex pests without any “real evidence,” outside of the claims of the women who were abused. But one’s testimony, one’s story, is evidence, and most incidents of abuse and harassment aren’t caught on video.

There is no requirement that a bad actor be found guilty in a court of law for his employer to decide the workplace is better off without him, and there’s certainly nothing requiring a team to maintain a relationship with a man accused of harassing women with less power than him. It’s both remarkable and restorative to see a team make that judgment.

What’s more, seeing Davis acknowledge her responsibility to the fans, the community, and the team, as well as the fact that the big decisions fall at her feet, is something we almost never see from team executives. “I was put in this role to take the club forward after what we experienced in the last couple years,” Davis said. “Candidly, the decision was a fairly easy one in the end.”

Here’s to hoping other pro sports teams are paying attention.

Original source here

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.