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Ex-NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush under scrutiny over abuse report

Former NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush currently serves as the CEO of USA Curling. (Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Lifetime)

USA Curling says its CEO Jeff Plush “acted in accordance with prioritizing the safety of athletes” during his time as the commissioner of the NWSL.

The board of the U.S. governing body for curling reached this conclusion after an independent investigation into Plush, which USA Curling conducted after U.S. Soccer began its NWSL abuse investigation last October.

Still, the board met Monday and said it would review U.S. Soccer’s newly released report on its investigation, which reveals new information on Plush and his time with the league.

Plush was commissioner of the NWSL from 2014 until March 2017. He took over as CEO of USA Curling in February 2020.

The U.S. Soccer report details the handling of the Portland Thorns’ and the NWSL’s treatment of Paul Riley in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against him in in 2015.

Thorns player Mana Shim informed Plush directly in 2015 about Riley’s sexual advances toward her as well as the retaliation she received when she asked him to stop, per the U.S. Soccer report. Plush reportedly forwarded Shim’s email to U.S. Soccer, but the league did not take action.

Riley was fired by the Thorns, but the team did not reveal his dismissal or the reason for it publicly, instead portraying the coach’s departure as a choice not to renew his contract. Riley went on to join the Western New York Flash as coach, and the commissioner failed to inform the Flash of Riley’s history.

When North Carolina Courage owner Steve Malik was looking into bringing Riley to North Carolina with the Flash franchise in 2017, the owner attempted to discern the reason for the coach’s departure from the Thorns.

“Malik’s best recollection was that Plush either demurred that he would look into it or declined to share … in light of confidentiality issues,” according to the U.S. Soccer report.

Plush also was given results of player surveys conducted with the Chicago Red Stars, which said coach Rory Dames was “abusive.” While forwarding the results to USSF, he noted that the information is “quite disturbing.”

“Neither the League nor (U.S. Soccer) took any action in response to the survey results,” the report states. “(The Red Stars owner) also does not recall ever receiving the 2015 feedback.”

Plush did not respond to a request for an interview as part of U.S. Soccer’s investigation.

USA Curling conducted in its own investigation to ensure that had Plush “acted in accordance with prioritizing the safety of athletes – which was found to be the case,” the organization said.

“The Board will navigate forward in a way that reviews fact and prioritizes safety for all,” USA Curling said.

U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland wrote Monday that the findings in the U.S. Soccer report are “appalling,” and she added that there “is no place in our community for inaction or indecision when it comes to athlete safety.”

“Based on the findings of the report, we have been in discussion with the USA Curling Board of Directors,” Hirshland wrote. “We understand they are reviewing the findings of this investigation as well as the findings of their own investigation conducted previously. We expect these conversations to continue into the coming days.”