Canzano: Playing the game for the right reason
Pro athlete speaks out.
George Fochive answered a question I’ve wondered about for a while on Wednesday. Who do professional athletes play for?
The Timbers’ midfielder joined me on my statewide radio show on Wednesday. Far as I know, Fochive is the first Portland player to speak publicly after Monday’s release of the disturbing and disappointing doings uncovered in U.S. Soccer’s investigative report on abuse in women’s soccer.
Owner Merritt Paulson removed himself from the day-to-day operations of the Thorns on Tuesday. A day later, Portland’s professional soccer franchise fired general manager, Gavin Wilkinson and head of business, Mike Golub. A few hours after that, Fochive, a veteran Timbers’ player, took the stage in a telephone interview.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been doing some thinking about the Timbers and Thorns lately. When it comes to women’s professional sports, the Thorns are the greatest success story on the planet. They outdraw everyone. They outplay most. But behind the scenes, they were allegedly betrayed in too many ways to count. First, by their ex-head coach, Paul Riley, then, by a cover-up, and a toxic work environment.
That said, let’s not kid ourselves — the rest of us finding out about it isn’t the most difficult and dark part of the story. Nothing could ever come close to having to live and work amid that kind of betrayal, as some Thorns players apparently did.
I booked the interview with Fochive directly on Wednesday, then debated whether to promote his appearance on social media. I wondered if the soccer franchise might hear about it and try to squash it. But I tweeted it anyway and hoped for the best.
I was relieved when the midfielder appeared on Line 1 on the call-screening system on Wednesday afternoon. Fochive, one of the few remaining members of Portland’s 2015 MLS Cup team, delivered in a big way.
What does he make of the report?
“All we can do is stick together,” he said. “I just want to stand with my teammates, Timbers and the women’s soccer players of the Portland Thorns. We’re brothers and sisters, working really hard out there every day for the love of the game.”
How has it felt to play amid the controversy?
“It was kind of hanging over us all year. We knew some stuff was happening with the front office and all the news. Honestly, we just are spectators. We need time to digest this.”
Did he hear/know anything about what the Thorns players were going through in 2015?
“I was younger than I am now, obviously, everything was new to me. I came into work. I loved what I did. I had the chance to do that with some great friends on the Timbers and Thorns. We were close at the time, too. I wasn’t really aware of anything to be honest. I’m embarrassed to say. I really wasn’t aware.”
What does he think about ownership of the franchises?
“That’s something I didn’t even think about,” Fochive said. “As a professional athlete we don't really play for Merritt Paulson. We play for the city of Portland, we play for our Timbers Army. We play for our fans, our families, our friends, people that are proud of us and come and sing for us. The owners, directors and GMs, they're just employees… ultimately, those are not the people I play for. I didn’t even think about them. I immediately thought of the victims and it broke my heart.”
We talked about a variety of things in the interview. Fochive spoke about playing soccer in Israel, where the teams represent political, religious and economic groups. He also talked about one of his other passions — art.
He’s been painting and is holding an art show tonight in Portland. But it’s what Fochive said about who he plays for that I left the interview thinking about.
Fochive didn’t play for an owner or a director. Or even a coach or a general manager. He played for his teammates, family, friends… and for you.
Don’t know about you, but I liked hearing that.
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