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USA Curling stands by ex-NWSL commissioner as athletes call for his removal

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

USA Curling is standing by CEO Jeff Plush, who has come under scrutiny in the wake of the U.S. Soccer investigation into abuse in the NWSL.

The sport’s governing body previously had said that Plush, who was commissioner of the NWSL from 2014 until March 2017, “acted in accordance with prioritizing the safety of athletes.” The board said Thursday that after a “thoughtful review” it is “confident” in Plush’s ability “to continue as an effective leader of the organization.”

“The findings in this investigation, Jeff’s candor during interviews with the Board, and his actions during his time as USA Curling CEO reassured the Board about his strong commitment to upholding the very highest standards for athlete well-being,” they wrote. “Additionally, the Board is encouraged by Jeff’s willingness to fully cooperate in the ongoing NWSL and its Players Association investigation.”

Plush was named in U.S. Soccer’s report as having known about former Portland Thorns and North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley’s sexual advances toward a player.

When 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. He was fired after a player complained of sexual coercion, but the reason for his dismissal had been kept quiet.

“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 was also given the results of a survey that contained allegations of abuse against former Chicago Red Stars head coach Rory Dames back in 2015. Dames was fired last year after the allegations came to light.

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

Plush declined to cooperate with US Soccer’s investigation, despite telling staff at USA Curling that he was “enthusiastic about a full investigation.” Per the U.S. Soccer report, the former NWSL commissioner “never responded” to requests for an interview.

Curling athletes called Wednesday for the removal of Plush from his post, citing their concern for the “immediate safety of U.S. curlers.” They also asked for the results of USA Curling’s 2021 investigation into Plush to be made public.

“It has become clear that actions (or inaction) taken by USA Curling CEO Jeff Plush during his time as Commissioner of the NWSL demonstrate that he cannot be trusted to prioritize the safety and well-being of athletes in this organization,” they wrote. “Further, the continued inaction and poor communication by the USA Curling Board of Directors places additional strain on the curling community.”

In the event USA Curling does not remove Plush, athletes said they would call for the board of directors’ resignation.