‘Feelin Thorny’ T-shirts Irritate Timbers and Thorns Fans


Among all the rumblings in the soccer community that the NWSL marketing contains a sense of entitlement and is coming over as arrogant, comes a localized controversy which in the eyes of some, is sending out the wrong message about women’s football.

These are Official Portland Thorns Merchandise

These are Official Portland Thorns Merchandise

Eight clubs are set to take the field in the new league which has the backing of US Soccer, the Canadian Soccer Association and the FMF (Federación Mexicana de Fútbol).

The Portland franchise named its club the Portland Thorns to a general acclaim that the name had been well chosen, given the city’s nickname as ‘the Rose City’.

The Thorns franchise is owned by Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson and has seemingly hired the entire executive and marketing staff as the MLS Timbers in an eerie recurrence of 2008, when Seattle Seahawks staff mysteriously appeared in every available post at Sounders FC.

That perhaps would be less of note as events in Seattle as one may think women’s soccer is more similar to men’s soccer than NFL is to Major League Soccer.

However the ire of some in Portland has been raised by the merchandising of t-shirts for the NWSL club with the logo ‘Feelin Thorny?’ which some are considering to be sexist.

A Facebook Page has been set up by fans who object and wish to have the product discontinued.

One poster on that page Catherine Hartman Watts considers it inappropriate for the Front Office to be conjuring the imagery:

“It is one thing for the supporters groups to have a laugh and create something like this. Entirely another for a professional organization to do it.”

Another poster, Courtney Berry juxtaposes whether the Timbers would equally sexualise their male athletes:

“What makes you think that producing a t-shirt with the phrase “Feeling Thorny?” is a good idea? Why the need to sexualize merchandise for a women’s sport, or any sport for that matter?

It’s as tasteless as selling a shirt at Timbers games that says “Got wood?” This is such a disappointment and missed opportunity to promote the strength and ability of these women. I hope you’ll reconsider the design and replace it with something more empowering and tactful.”

Another poster on that page, Jodi Burckhart, was not too aggravated about the matter until Thorns and Timbers owner Merritt Paulson took to twitter but did not defend the t-shirts, opting instead to attack the protestors.

“Wasn’t actually super aggravated until I read MP’s Twitter feed regarding this. Just silly that instead of taking a few minutes and considering that someone else’s opinions might have validity even though different from his own, he immediately becomes defensive and dismissive. Now I have to write a letter. *sigh*”

The tweet that annoyed Ms Burckhart read:

“not worth engaing with someone who thinks a t-shirt is a statement. my statement on women’s sports was launching the Thorns”

Paulson did invest heavily in the franchise and may feel that his money has made the statement of support for the women’s game. To also be fair, he’s certainly posted more dismissive tweets at Timbers fans in the past.

He also responded to one fan by recommending she wear an equivalent t-shirt during a Timbers game:

“and you can wear a “got wood?” shirt if you’d like for your PTFC capo’ing. coming soon :)”

adding in another tweet:

“I was unaware we have such prudes for supporters.”

It is not just female Timbers fans who are unhappy. A male Timbers fans messaging Paulson on Twitter wrote:

By having that in thornsfc store, you’re saying you’re happy with tits & ass being draw for your fanbase.

The bone of contention appears to be that the word thorny rhymes with horny and sexualises the product in an environment where a predominantly male controlled sports media often considers more than the sporting ability of female athletes in their coverage.


A male fan voiced his displeasure on twitter


Although the issue may be localised here, it is not the first time that male attitudes to female football players has caused offence.

In 2004 FIFA President Sepp Blatter recommended that female players wear tighter and skimpier outfits to increase interest in the sport, remarks which were described by England and Charlton goalkeeper Pauline Cope as “typical of a bloke”.

The Discontinue Portland Thorns “Feelin’ Thorny?” Merchandise Facebook Group page began at just 3pm on Thursday and so far has accrued 35 Facebook likes in its first two hours, but these matters have a habit of reaching large numbers of people virally at great speed.

Paulson has also pointed out that the idea ‘came from prominent female staff member of the Thorns’ in another tweet.

A club press release this evening made no mention of the controversy but pointed out that Portland Thorns FC and Girls, Inc. joined forces recently to help celebrate International Women’s Day.


More Womens Soccer Articles

Portland Thorns add Girls, Inc. to the team at Power of the Purse event (Portland Timbers website)

Bring Back the Feelin’ Thorny T-shirts (Facebook Page)


About Author

Steve is the founder and owner of Prost Amerika. He covered the expansion of MLS soccer in Cascadia at first hand. As Editor in Chief of soccerly.com, he was accredited at the 2014 World Cup Final. He is the former President of the North American Soccer Reporters Association/ Originally from Glasgow, he is a supporter of the Great Glasgow Alternative, Partick Thistle.


  1. It is nice to see that the demons of stupidity of have infiltrated another FO beyond the Sounders FO!!!!! Wrong part of the US, wrong sport, wrong time, bad idea…this might fly in Atlanta, but not Cascadia, too PC up here for this to even have a chance of going over as anything other than very badly……Doh Merrit!

  2. Good for Paulson. He’s completely correct to dismiss this.

    What a total non story.

    Really clever marketing phrase. Well done to them.

    Some people will complain or find sexism in anything. Typical of women of course.

    • Clever marketing phrase? Really? How about marketing to the lowest common denominator. This the opposite of clever and something eleven year-olds would snicker and giggle about.

      • A man who lives in an imaginary world, called Equality on

        “Absolutely right, any form of sexualizing women is just wrong. No woman can be horny, and while the idea of twisting a word that means sexually excited to be a catchphrase of a all women’s team is just misogynistic! No women ever in all history has ever experienced sexual excitement or “feeling horny” it’s biologically impossible. And in any way to degrade women and place them equal to a man is vile, men get horny all the time but that’s cause their driven by sex. t-shirts sold to men that openly point this fact out is alright, but for a woman’s team to make any assumption in any way that a woman could be driven by sex too as a man, any attempt to lower women down to the level of men is truly disgusting.”

        -Sarcasm there btw. Look if you find this offensive fine, but the only message sent by being offended is that you hold an entire gender like a sexist to some different set of ideals, (my point there was of the extreme, for the sole purpose of expressing how labeling something can be seen by others) The fact is it was an ad campaign to appeal to that “hey that sounds like -giggle-” side most people have inside. It was not “entitlement” (seriously this isn’t for you Harper this is for the article writer since it seems this is a word so many use but extremely few understands it’s meaning: en·ti·tle·ment /enˈtītlmənt/
        1.The fact of having a right to something.
        2.The amount to which a person has a right.) unless the use of the word is in defense of anti-female sexism, because somehow our society takes any form of sexualization on women even in the form of a catch phrase which would be acceptable to any male team, as wrong.

        Now, is the praise offensive? Depends on your tastes you could find it offensive or just dumb (I’m more in the later there, then the former).
        Is it really offensive to an equal gender world? No, it’s just a waste of money “Honestly? Thorny? Horny? The Thorns got ripped off if they payed more then $20 bucks for that phrase, that might be too much”

        If you don’t like it that’s fine but ask yourself now, why? Do you believe it’s stupid or sexist? Why? (try to phrase it if you think it’s sexist in a way that isn’t sexist IE; avoid forcing a preconceived ideal on how women must be, and those who don’t conform are somehow less valued and damage the gender as a whole by doing and thinking what they want)

        I’m one of the many men who believe women deserve to be equal to men in all things, and find sexism both men sexism towards women, and women’s sexism towards women (yes they do exist, holding women to some different ideal and expecting the whole gender to fall into a gender role imposed on them by women now instead of men is equally as sexist) also against women being sexist towards men too, but the other two are far more prevalent in our society.

    • “Typical of women of course.” — I think what’s typical of women, pallie, is that they want nothing to do with neanderthals like you.

  3. Some interesting parallels to the reveal of the MLS Timbers logo as well– Paulson hoping for a day of excitement, caught by surprise by fan disappointment, which unsurprisingly resulted in Paulson feeling cornered and reacting defensively. I feel for him, but both incidents that might have been avoided with better communication.

  4. Kurt Kemmerer on

    There is nothing clever about it. Can we start there? This is juvenile, crap marketing at its worst. How it got past anyone is quite amazing, just from a quality standpoint.

    It seems that Paulson is in need of some “No” women and men on his team.

  5. My daughter will not attend any Thorn FC games now. We’re already selling our season tickets. What should have been a positive for women and girls, of course has turned into a sexist promotion. Too bad.

    • We’re not going to overtly editorialize on this but think Sara brings up a relevant point. The wisdom of this is as much an age issue as a gender one. Thorns surely had young girls as a target audience. But what parent wants to have to explain this to a 6 year old girl?

      We’ve backed fans over families on many issues in MLS and supported fan culture more than almost any other outlet, but feel that there is a strong case for keeping NWSL child friendly.

      • Or…she’s denying her daughter a season of pro soccer in order to stubbornly make a point. In reality, that shirt probably never would have been a huge part of their game day experiences. It’s not like there will be scantily clad cheerleaders romping around on th field. As if any community would tolerate something like that at a family sporting event (oh wait?). It’s just a T Shirt.

        Now the kid gets no soccer, and the mom has made her point.

      • One of the things that some find amusing about “thorny” is the actual definition: prickly. Yes, I know that isn’t the only meaning and reason why some find the t-shirt amusing. But that makes the explanation to a curious 6 year old quite easy, I think.

        As for the marketing plans, the previous failure of 2 women’s leagues (and early struggles of MLS) have shown very clearly that a professional soccer league can’t survive solely on “soccer moms bringing their kids.” (that’s a reference to what MLS tried to do, not to what the editor stated) The ABL (which started a season before the NBA backed WNBA) also failed, in part because of an attempt to market largely to families with children. For a professional league to survive (at least in the U.S.), it MUST bring in fans beyond families with kids.

        I’m not arguing for this shirt and I’m not saying that NWSL matches shouldn’t be “family friendly” (although I think it will be a challenge to ensure that all 6,500+ Thorns season ticket holders only engage in “family friendly” chants and comments towards the opposing team & officials. I’m simply making a point, in response to the editor, about the target audience for the Thorns and NWSL.

    • My daughter is 13 and 5’10’ so youth size shirts are not an option for her. She grew up in the TA but has dropped going to the Timbers matches from her schedule, yet was looking forward to the Thorns matches. I’m not sure that I will take her if this is managements take on how they want to promote their women’s side. I certainly don’t want “Feelin Thorny?” on her chest, so no merch will be purchased by this family until this is gone.

      Ponders: I wonder if her school would even let her wear this?

  6. Marketing slogans and pop culture phrases are routinely co-opted by businesses or individuals all the time – ultimately, interpretation comes down to individuals. As for sexualizing the men’s game, it’s not as if that isn’t done either – Top example being David Beckham, who women sexualized endlessly. You can’t complain about being objectified if you do the same thing, screaming in delight every time male athlete or celeb takes their shirt off.

    • The difference is that Beckham is a wealthy, white, athletic man. Men, especially white men, haven’t been systematically oppressed for thousands of years and are in a position of privilege. We’re very difficult to victimize because we’re kings of the freaking world. It’s very easy to take a joke at your expense in stride and laugh along with it when you essentially have nothing at stake, even more so when it refers to your anatomy, gender, or sexuality in an empowering rather than demeaning way.

  7. Edgardo Alfonzo on

    How come nobody made a big deal about the LA Galaxy farewell Beckham shirts? Those were sexist and corny as well. Is it because they didn’t use a word that rhymes with horny?

    • A man who lives in an imaginary world, called Equality on

      it’s called double standard. society as a whole expects women to be different then men so.
      Let’s make up two teams…. let’s go hockey.

      the Blah blah blah (filler for the city and state) Arctic roosters.
      Let’s say the whole team is pretty bad except for the goaltender, who has kept rivals from making a shot the whole season, going down as having the best goaltender. their moto should have a term connected to him…. Oh I know! Slot!
      “Slot is the area on the hockey rink directly in front of the goaltender between the face-off circles on each side”
      Also a PC term for a Rooster is Cock (kinda risky but okay…. it’s a man’s team we can defend it who’s gonna cry foul?)

      the Moto: “Cock slot”

      …..Now apply everything I have said about the “Arctic Roosters” and make it a all women’s team…. yeah….. you can hear the sexist cries already huh? (it’s also sexist to say if it’s a woman’s team then they can’t be called Roosters, or Cock wouldn’t apply)

      I don’t want to live on this planet anymore….

  8. I don’t know what Portland supporters would do with themselves if they didn’t have something to be self-righteously offended about.

    • Spicy McHaggis on

      Hear hear. But to be fair, you’d get that reaction just about anywhere. There’s always a segment of people that take things too seriously. I think the “Got Wood” t-shirt idea was funny too.

      In the immortal words of Sgt. Hulka; “Lighten up Francis.”

  9. Portland Fan on

    The last time I touched a thorn it hurt. Let the sting from being thorny come from the field and not from a t-shirt. If you are upset because something that causes pain like being thorny rhymes with horny, then what you “Rose City” fans need to do is Pluck Off.

  10. Please, please, please, people. Get a sense of humor. Life is much more enjoyable that way. Not everybody around every corner is prejudiced. Political correctness and paranoia seem to have a lot in common.

  11. This “controversy” is sooo Portlandia. This is a summary of an upcoming episode, right?

  12. I don’t understand how this is sexist. Does it reference sex? Yes. But it makes no further comments on the worth of each sex or the worth of each sex’s attributes. This is just as sexist as the Sounders’ ad campaign “Date with a Sounder”.

    And I for one, even as a Sounders supporter, would love and applaud a Timbers “Got Wood?” t-shirt.

  13. sain d'esprit on

    I try to live by a “to each their own” sort of philosophy, which at its purist, precludes the ability to be offended. Leaving the issue of whether or not the shirts are appropriate/clever/offensive/what-have-you aside, it seems that if Paulson et al understood their market they would know that such a slogan would draw some ire. It’s almost as stupid as MLS HQ thinking that Cascadia would stand by as their competitions were being trademarked without their input. Do those in power really have a clue who their current market is??

    This person got it right:
    “It is one thing for the supporters groups to have a laugh and create something like this. Entirely another for a professional organization to do it.”

    • There are certainly some parallels. There still has to be more soccer and less marketing folk in the soccer marketing in all three Cascadia clubs.

  14. Looks like TA is for Tits & Ass at the new Thorns of Portland organization…. It is time to start “Feelin Thorny” because we “Got Wood” !!!!!

  15. ShutUpandBeHappy on

    I’m offended that people find this shirt offensive.

    First, how is this this sexual? Because it rhymes with the word horny? It’s no more suggestive than Nike’s Just Do It. Thorny is a real word, that already has a meaning. It means sharp and prickly or having thorns. Think about this in the context of playing defense or standing up tough to an opponent. It could also have the context of feeling proud to be a supporter of the Thorns.

    I find it disappointing that people have to immediately assume that this is somehow a slogan that promotes the Thorns players as sex objects. That’s a reach in my opinion. The slogan is a play on words, but I promise most young kids won’t get the double entendre. If you watch any Disney movie lately, there’s plenty of jokes in there intended to go right over the kids heads and meant for the parents and it’s all in good fun.

    Relax people, if you don’t like it don’t buy it and if the worst T-shirt slogan your kid ever sees only says “Feelin Thorny” then consider yourselves lucky.