Sporting KC releases CEO Gavin Wilkinson after 8 days following a backlash from fans
The Gavin Wilkinson era at Sporting Kansas City has ended, an eight-day spell that sparked as much backlash from fans as few employees in Major League Soccer. The club’s principal owner, Michael Illig, announced on Friday that the club had “mutually agreed with Gavin Wilkinson to relieve him of his recently announced position”.
Wilkinson’s hiring was met with criticism by the team’s fan base after he took over as general manager and president of the Portland Timbers and Thorns. Portland fired Wilkinson near the end of the 2022 season after separate investigations into the organizations’ handling of player or coach misconduct.
Fans voiced their opposition in the week following news of Sporting Kansas City’s hiring of Wilkinson, rallying behind the social media hashtag #GWOut with many canceling their season tickets.
“By making this difficult decision, we first want to acknowledge the passion of our fans, our community of supporters, our partners and our stakeholders,” Illig’s statement continued. “Together they form a valued Sporting family. Our action today demonstrates our long-standing and unequivocal respect for their voices, and the belief that we are all stronger when we listen to each other.
“We have undertaken a diligent and comprehensive process to identify our new sporting director. This has been based on the well-established principles and standards that we have adhered to since the day we took over the team.
“However, the enthusiastic response from our fans has reinforced for us the core philosophy that has driven us since day one: to honor and protect our valuable relationships. It is in this spirit that we take this action today, reflecting our enduring appreciation for SKC’s unparalleled fans and our Kansas City community.”
Serving as President of Portland Club Football after joining the organization in 2001, Wilkinson was recommended by former Thorns coach Paul Reilly for a position with the Western New York Flash despite knowing of sexual coercion allegations made by several Thorns players. Years later, he and the Timbers organization failed to report a citation issued to winger Andy Polo after police were called to handle a domestic violence incident. Although Wilkinson remained in that position following an investigation by MLS, he was later dismissed in the wake of the Sally Yates report.
Wilkinson spoke to Timbers fans as part of a town hall event on April 22, 2022, in the period between the league’s investigation and the findings of the Yates report. After a half-hour of fielding questions on the field, a fan asked him about “the perception that there’s a lot of cover-up” by Portland’s hierarchy. Wilkinson’s response centered on his involvement in both allegations of coercion and a failure to report a domestic violence citation.
Putting the battle of optics in the context of the Timbers in the Andy Polo saga
“Allegations are one thing, and at some point, for me personally, the facts have to matter,” Wilkinson said. “So, if we’re going to take what we think is a story and blow it out of proportion, and then that’s going to get traction — and then social media and the echo chamber — if we’re going to pinpoint what we think the flaws are rather than listening to the facts, it’s going to create problems. It’s ruined.” “My experience. It ruined my family’s life in Portland. So I empathize and I lived through that.”
When announcing Wilkinson last week, Sporting stated they had worked with sports search firm Nolan Partners to fill the sporting director role. On Thursday morning, The athlete I contacted Nolan Partners for comment on what their process has found regarding Wilkinson’s time in Portland and whether this type of reaction was to be expected. Nolan Partners did not respond to this inquiry before the club parted ways with Wilkinson.
In a press conference after signing with Sporting KC, Wilkinson said there had been an “error of judgement” at Portland and “I should have done more”.
“I think I’ve learned that I’m not perfect, but I’ve never met someone perfect,” he said. “And you know, being in the public spotlight, obviously everyone can have an opinion, everyone can make judgments, and I just hope the fans look at the facts and I’ll have a lot of opportunities with the city council and other initiatives to connect with people and answer questions as well.” .
“And then it’s up to them to make their decision.”
The backlash from supporters came from the Ladies of SKC, a group of women and men with a stated goal of “growing the game, building community and supporting the SKC family however we can.” Since Wilkinson’s appointment, they have been featured in local television news reports and interviews with local print media. They have scheduled a protest for Saturday at the Sporting KC dealership warehouse.
Just before Illig’s statement, the independent Kansas City Soccer Journal interviewed the group, in which they called Wilkinson’s appointment a “slap in the face” from the club they have done so much to support.
“This hiring made us decide that we were going to go out and fight the good fight, because we didn’t think he should be part of the athletic community,” SKC women’s member Brandi Bede said on the Shades of Blue podcast.
“For me, personally, I feel like it’s a slap in the face. This guy had so many chances to protect players and he didn’t. Even in his press conference with Sporting, he mentioned that he should have done better and deserved a second chance, but he had so many chances to protect players.” These women – and chose not to do it, and continue to do it.
Sporting Kansas City declined to add any further comment after Friday’s statement. The club is expected to appoint a replacement to fortify its backroom sporting staff.
An MLS spokesperson declined to comment on the situation between Wilkinson and Sporting Kansas City as well.
(Photo: Diego Diaz/Sportswire Icon via AP)
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