The CEO of USA Curling resigned under pressure Friday, two weeks after the federation’s board said it was standing by him despite allegations he played a role in the NWSL’s systemic culture of abuse and that league’s indifference to complaints from players.
The USA Curling statement did not give a reason or further details other than to say its Board of Directors had “unanimously accepted” Jeff Plush’s resignation.
Plush had been under heavy criticism from the curling community since an Oct. 3 report detailed how, during his tenure as NWSL commissioner, several players had alerted the league and U.S. Soccer to abuse by their coaches that included verbal tirades, retaliation, sexual harassment and sexual coercion. There often was no punishment and, in the instances where there were repercussions, coaches were allowed to move to other teams without anyone at the league or federation raising an alarm.
Many curling clubs had demanded Plush’s ouster, as did the USA Curling Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force. A letter by the Task Force calling for Plush’s removal had more than 1,250 signatures as of Friday night. A former sponsor, Goldline Curling, said Wednesday that it would not consider renewing its relationship with USA Curling “until we can see our values reflected in that organization.”.
Plush had also angered curlers over a dispute that led to the removal of the Grand National Curling Club, the largest in the country, as a member region.
“In recent months, our relationship with this community has been damaged. We have not communicated effectively, and some believe we have not listened. There has been anger, frustration, and confusion,” USA Curling’s board wrote.
“We see you. We hear you. We care about you. Our priority is to rebuild trust. To start that process, today we lead with action.”.
Dean Gemmell, previously the director of curling development, was named interim CEO. USA Curling also said Alexandra Agre, chair of the Athletes Advisory Committee, will lead a committee to review previous handling of SafeSport complaints, examine existing policies and make recommendations.
“Change will come swiftly, with contributions from all kinds of people who play our great sport,” the board said in the statement.
Plush’s departure is an about-face for the federation, which had vigorously defended him both last year, when the NWSL abuse scandal first broke, and again this month after the release of the report by former U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates.
According to the Yates report, the NWSL took no action after Portland Thorns player Mana Shim informed Plush directly in 2015 about coach Paul Riley’s persistent and unwanted advances, as well as his retaliation when she asked him to stop.
The Thorns fired Riley, but he was not banned by the NWSL and went on to coach two other teams in the league.
Also in 2015, Plush was given results of player surveys that described Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames as “abusive.” Though Plush forwarded the results to U.S. Soccer, Yates said neither the league nor the federation took any action and the Red Stars owner doesn’t recall being told about the concerns.
Plush, who had been USA Curling’s CEO since February 2020, said repeatedly that he had acted appropriately when he was at the NWSL. In an Oct. 13 statement, USA Curling’s board said it had conducted thorough investigations last year and again in the wake of the Yates report and remained “confident in Jeff’s ability to continue as an effective leader of the organization.”.
The board specifically praised Plush’s candor and his willingness to participate in a joint investigation by the NWSL and its Players Association. Yates noted in her report that Plush did not respond to repeated outreaches despite telling USA Curling staff in October 2021 that he was an “open book” and “welcomed” an investigation.
“We are confident in our due diligence and the thoroughness that went into reviewing the matter,” board chair Lynn LaRocca said in the Oct. 13 statement.
Two weeks later, Plush is gone and USA Curling must rebuild fractured relationships.
“Now the real work begins. This is the correct start,” JayCee Cooper, a member of USA Curling’s DEI Task Force, said on Twitter.