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Sporting Kansas City hired Gavin Wilkinson despite misconduct ties, then cut him 9 days later

Under the plan, Kansans would be able to bet on games like this Sporting KC match.
Dylan Lysen
Kansas News Service
Sporting Kansas City principal owner Michael Illig announced on Friday his club was reversing course on the controversial hiring of Gavin Wilkinson as sporting director, eight days after it was announced.

Wilkinson was fired from a previous leadership role in women's professional soccer over multiple investigations, including into the sexual misconduct of a former Portland Thorns coach. Kansas City first announced him as sporting director last week, to the quick consternation of many fans.

Barely a week after Sporting Kansas City announced the controversial hiring of Gavin Wilkinson as the team’s new sporting director, the team announced it has mutually parted ways with Wilkinson.

“In making this difficult decision, we want to first acknowledge the passion of our fans, our community of supporters, our partners and our stakeholders,” Michael Illig, the team’s principal owner, wrote in a statement on Friday. “Our action today demonstrates our longstanding, unequivocal respect for their voices, and the belief that we are all stronger when we listen to one another.”

Wilkinson has been out of organized soccer since his 2022 firing as president and general manager of the Portland Thorns, in the National Women’s Soccer League.

He was fired after separate investigations into the handling of coach misconduct, and his name surfaced in the coverup of sexual harassment allegations against former Thorns coach Paul Riley.

In an independent investigation released in 2022 and overseen by former Attorney General Sally Yates, Wilkinson was held ultimately responsible for hiring Riley, who has been banned for life from coaching because of his misconduct.

Wilkinson’s hiring announcement in Kansas City was met with immediate backlash from fans and, most prominently, a club-sponsored supporter group called Ladies of SKC.

"We have long and faithfully supported this team, with our voices, our time, our wallets, and our hearts," the group wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter. "Never before have we felt ourselves called to speak out in opposition to the team. This hiring however, has set a precedent we cannot accept."

After news of Wilkinson’s release broke, the group canceled plans for a Jan. 20 protest.

“It’s been a crazy week,” said Carrie Davis, who said she’s one of the more active members of the Ladies of SKC group. “We feel like our work has paid off.”

“We just knew that we weren’t going to let up. We weren’t going to let any social media moment go by without reminding them we weren’t happy and that they couldn’t just let this slide,” Davis said.

When Sporting announced Wilkinson’s hiring on Jan. 10, Illig addressed what he termed “an obvious issue” in the team’s decision.

“There were acknowledged lapses in judgment, and certain aspects should have been handled much differently,” Illig said. “Gavin is a strong-principled individual worthy of a second chance.”

On Friday though, nine days later, Illig conceded.

“We ran a diligent and exhaustive process to identify our new Sporting Director. It was grounded in the deeply-held principles and standards we have adhered to since the day we acquired the team,” he wrote in the statement. “That said, the impassioned response from our fans reinforced to us a fundamental philosophy that has driven us since Day One: To honor and protect our valued relationships.”

The team has not indicated its next step toward hiring a new executive to make personnel decisions.

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
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