The Stench Of The Portland Timbers Is A Familiar One
10:19 AM EDT on April 15, 2022
Back in February, Génessis Alarcón appeared on the Peruvian TV show Magaly TV, La Firme. In a half-hour segment, Alarcón detailed the physical, emotional, and financial abuse inflicted upon her by her estranged husband, Portland Timbers midfielder Andy Polo. (The program is in Spanish, but I found Youtube's auto-translated English captions to be fairly accurate if you want to watch it for yourself.)
The next day, the Timbers announced that Polo had been suspended and removed from all team activities. Then Alarcón appeared on Magaly TV La Firme again, stating that the team had known about what had happened and had even shown up at their home and talked to law enforcement.
It did not take long for reporters in Oregon to find evidence confirming what Alarcón had said. The Oregonian got a copy of a Washington County Sheriff's Office report from May 23, 2021. On that day, per the the Oregonian's account, a friend of Alarcón told 911 dispatchers that Alarcón's husband was hitting her. When a deputy arrived, he wrote in his report that he found Alarcón "frantic, scared and stressed," the newspaper reported, and she was frantically grabbing clothes. From the Oregonian:
“Genesis (sic) said Andy and she had been arguing for the past two days. She told me today she was home in the kitchen cleaning when Andy came home. She said Andy wanted to take her cellphone back because he wanted to take back everything he has ever given her. She told him she did not have it. She said during the argument Andy reached out and grabbed her right wrist and scratched it. She showed me the underside of her right wrist and I saw what appeared to be a light red abrasion.”
At some point, while deputy Adam Weishaar was there, Gabriel Jaimes showed up—per the team's website, Jaimes is Portland's manager of player affairs and professional development. Jaimes told the deputy that the team's head of security was also on the way, per the report, and when that person—former Portland police detective Jim McCausland—showed up, he told Weishaar that "he would make sure that peace would be maintained inside the house." McCausland assured the deputy that he would "take care" of moving Polo or Alarcón if needed for safety and that "no further incidents would take place," the Oregonian said, citing the deputy's report.
Weishaar gave Polo a citation for offensive physical contact, a misdemeanor, and local prosecutors did not pursue the case. The Oregonian added that Jaimes served as a translator for Weishaar, which also lines up with what Alarcón said.
After the law enforcement report became public this past February—nine months after the incident—the Timbers went from suspending Polo to releasing him completely.
An anonymous source with the team told the Oregonian that the team only knew about the incident on May 23, and not everything else that Alarcón described in her interview. But then Alarcón told ESPN that wasn't the whole story. She said that, two weeks after law enforcement came to their home, two people working for the Timbers visited her: the security chief, McCausland, and a lawyer working for the Timbers, later identified as Christine Mascal. (Mascal, a prosecutor turned defense lawyer, resigned from the the board of the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center in 2019 after her aggressive cross-examination at trial of a woman who had reported being sexually assaulted.) Alarcón said that she was told they would help take care of her—with the understanding that it would be in return for her not pursuing a criminal case. From ESPN:
"They were going to help me, and make sure me and my kids didn't get left on the street," Alarcon said with the help of an interpreter. "They were going to make sure that Andy was going to be responsible for me and my kids but it never happened. I was told this would be in exchange for not pressing charges."
Alarcon later added through her attorney, Michael Fuller, that she didn't intend to press charges anyway -- though the Timbers didn't know that at the time -- because she "didn't want to negatively impact the children."
The next day, her lawyer released audio in which someone with the Timbers says "we hope you do not" to Alarcón in regards to her pursuing the criminal charge.
In late March, MLS released a five-page summary of an investigation into what happened, conducted by longtime MLS advisors Proskauer Rose, which determined that the club had failed to properly report the May investigation by law enforcement but did not pressure Alarcón.
Putting the lie to that claim, this week The Nation reported that it has listened to more audio, recorded by Alarcón, in which Mascal can be heard talking about how much Polo will pay Alarcón, and working with Polo to increase that amount. According to The Nation, Mascal said: “If it goes to court, if you want to pursue it, there would be a trial … do you know what a trial is? Do you watch any TV shows where they have trials, like that? That’s kind of what that’s like.”
Another quote, as reported by The Nation: "He probably won’t get that year in jail. He’ll get some jail, and then he’ll be on probation for probably three years. Of course, he doesn’t want to go that route, right? And that’s why we’re telling him to get you what you need, and then hopefully it doesn’t end up in a trial situation.”
When asked by The Nation for comment, the Timbers pointed to the results of the MLS investigation.
It's worth mentioning here that the owner of the Timbers—Merritt Paulson—also owns the NWSL's Portland Thorns, which once employed coach Paul Riley. Multiple former Thorns players told The Athletic last year that Riley created a toxic environment for them through emotional abuse as well as sexual coercion. Per The Athletic's reporting, the Thorns did not renew Riley's contract after the 2015 season following an investigation into his conduct. Paulson told the Athletic that they shared "everything" with the league—and then another NWSL team hired Riley. After The Athletic's report came out, Riley was fired by the North Carolina Courage.
Fans of both teams want answers, as they should. But it's impossible to ignore the familiar reek of it all. People connected to a powerful sports team leaning on survivors of violence to keep quiet and to not press charges. Teams and leagues only taking action when the details become public. Investigations conducted long afterward that never feel terribly consequential. None of this is new, it's just that now sports reporters actually report on it. And, of course, none of it is limited to sports: The fixers, the hush-money offers, the machinery to keep everything quiet can be found around any person or institution with enough power or prestige.
Whenever I write about teams and leagues and their failures, I think about Bobby Bowden's final years of coaching. Not because I'm a Florida State fan (I went to Florida), but because, near the end of his career, he was in that rare position granted by longevity that he could say anything he was thinking. Bowden would recall how, back in the day, if a player got in trouble the police would just call him directly and and then nobody would have to know about it. Bowden flat-out said this to the Los Angeles Times in 2000: “In the past, when you had trouble, the coach handled it, and nobody else knew it. I can remember rifles going off in the dormitory automatically ... but coach handled it and nobody knew. The coach and the police.”
In the immediate present, the questions naturally revolve around Paulson and the leadership of the Timbers and the Thorns. Portland fans are doing what they can, not only bring protest banners but even letting their season tickets lapse, according to ESPN. MLS and the NWSL have enjoyed selling themselves to fans as a something different, something better than North America's longer-standing pro sports leagues. But right now the view from Portland is an all-too-recognizable one, another link in the chain of a long and rotten history, one that no amount of marketing can wash away.