Madison Shanley sings the national anthem before the Portland Timbers game against the Los Angeles Galaxy on April 3 in Providence Park. Kayla Marie Plummer
When Madison Shanley, the national anthem singer for the Portland Timbers and Thorns, drove downtown to meet with the club’s front office officials on Wednesday, she did so in an effort to renew her faith in the club she’s been singing to since she was in the eighth grade.
Shanley, whose decision to wear a “You Know” T-shirt as she sang the national anthem before the Timbers’ final game against the LA Galaxy made her a vocal critic of the club, wanted a reason to continue performing with the club. But over the course of a 45-minute meeting with business chief Mike Golub and two other club representatives, she didn’t get one.
Shanley Announced Thursday afternoon That until major changes are made to the club’s management, she will not sing the national anthems of the Timbers or Thorns.
“It’s a denial of me,” Shanley said. “It’s a lack of urgency for me. The closing statement the group gave me was, ‘Change takes time.’ That is a dangerous statement. As long as change takes time, abuse will continue. And I cannot agree with their lack of urgency.”
A Timbers spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Shanley said she went to the meeting hoping to hear that the club bears responsibility for the two incidents that have turned them around in the past seven months — first, the club allegedly carried out a cover-up. Harassment of former Thorns manager Paul Riley and mistreatment of Thorns players in 2015, then 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 the Major League Soccer found that Timbers violated league rules by not reporting Polo’s quote, but did not attempt to force his estranged wife Genesis Alarcón not to press charges.
Shanley said the club seemed to feel the investigation into the Polo case was denied, which it did not. Regardless of the investigations, Shanley came up with specific questions about the club’s approach to rebuilding its culture and trust with the community.
Shanley said she specifically asked why the club had not yet appointed a vice president for community and social impact, as announced in March, and was told the position was open in part due to the challenges posed by the current job market.
“They said it takes time,” Shanley said. “In my opinion, I am impressed, well, how long will it take to implement these initiatives? How long will it take to take action?”
This wasn’t the only answer that left Shanley unmoved. At some point during the meeting, she said Golub told her that the club donates to several domestic violence support organizations. When asked about organizations specifically, Golub could only name one.
Shanley said Golub was “extremely respectful” and that she understands the club are limited in what they can say about Riley’s case as investigations into the club’s conduct continue. However, she did not walk out of the meeting reassured on the club’s website or leadership.
“I felt they were giving me the same PR statements they gave the public — the same words that were written in these initiatives they launched,” Shanley said. “I didn’t feel like they were looking me in the eye and talking from the heart. I felt they were talking from a business perspective to someone who was putting their business at risk.”
In contrast, Shanley kept the human dimension front and center. The night before the meeting, I spoke on the phone with former Thorns midfielder Manna 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 sponsor accompany her to Providence Park.
“I didn’t want to go alone,” Shanley said.
Earlier this week, Timbers General Manager Gavin Wilkinson appeared on Football Made in Portland podcast, where he told podcast hosts “Yes, we failed to report [the Polo incident]We have to own it, but it wasn’t by trying to cover it up.”
Wilkinson said part of the reason Timbers re-signed polo last winter with full knowledge of the domestic violence incident was that the club felt it could trade Polo for another Major League Soccer team — a team that supposedly had no knowledge of the domestic violence case.
It’s this kind of logic that still leaves Shanley turbulent.
“In the case of Paul Riley and Andy Polo specifically, if you don’t take action quickly, they simply move on and the behavior continues,” Shanley said.
After leaving the meeting, Shanley said she “in and of herself” felt the need to walk away from the club, but wanted to consider her decision carefully. After sleeping on it Wednesday night, I knew for sure.
She explained her decision in a lengthy email to club officials on Thursday afternoon, writing that she was hoping “you don’t have to make that decision so quickly,” but wanted to give the club plenty of time to find a replacement anthem singer for Sunday’s game against the Thorns against San Diego. Wave in Providence Park.
“I take my integrity very seriously and can no longer represent this organization,” Shanley wrote.
Shanley said she, like a number of Timbers and Thorns fans who gave up season tickets in protest, hopes to resume her relationship with the club in the future. But until she sees the urgency and accountability she seeks from her management, she won’t be attending a game at Providence Park.
For Shanley, making this decision was one of the most painful parts of my two stressful weeks.
“The organization and the community have meant the world to me for a long time,” Shanley said. “I’m suffocating because it’s really hard to walk away. It’s like closing a chapter. I hope it doesn’t close it forever, but I don’t know when I’ll be back.”