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USA Curling 'reviewing' report detailing current CEO's involvement in systemic abuse in NWSL

USA TODAY SPORTS 10/4/2022 Nancy Armour, USA TODAY
A view of the stones used in the men’s curling bronze medal game during the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games at National Aquatics Center. © Andrew P. Scott, USA TODAY Sports A view of the stones used in the men’s curling bronze medal game during the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games at National Aquatics Center.

USA Curling is reviewing a report that details how its current leader ignored and in some cases helped hide “pervasive” and “systemic” abusive behavior and sexual misconduct in the NWSL when he was that league’s commissioner.

In a letter to U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee staff sent Monday night, CEO Sarah Hirshland called Sally Yates’ findings “appalling,” and said 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.”

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USA Curling’s CEO is Jeff Plush, who was the NWSL’s commissioner from 2014 to 2017. During that time, several players alerted the league and U.S. Soccer to abuse by their coaches, including 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.

MORE: Investigation finds ‘systemic’ abuse of players, while NWSL, USSF stayed silent

OPINION: Thorns, Red Stars owners need to go in light of damning report on abuse in NWSL

Yates said Plush did not respond to her team’s request for an interview.

But according to Yates’ report, 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. Though Plush forwarded Shim’s email to U.S. Soccer, the league took no action against Riley. Nor did Plush tell the Western New York Flash why Riley had been fired by the Thorns – or even that he’d been fired -- when the Flash hired him a few months later.

When North Carolina Courage owner Steve Malik was considering hiring Riley in 2017, he told Yates that he tried to find out why the coach had left the Thorns and asked Plush for a copy of a 2015 report on “that allegedly 'cleared' Riley.”

“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 Yates’ report.

Also in 2015, Plush was given results of player surveys that described Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames as “abusive.” He forwarded the results to U.S. Soccer with a note saying some of the information “is quite disturbing.”  

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

It's not a surprise that the USOPC would be sensitive to ties between Plush, who's been USA Curling's CEO since February 2020, and the systemic abuse in the NWSL. The USOPC has been besieged in recent years with its own abuse scandals, most notably that of Larry Nassar, a team physician for USA Gymnastics.

Some of the NWSL players who were subjected to abuse or had their complaints ignored are also Olympians. That includes Christen Press, who twice raised concerns about Dames' verbal and emotional abuse, and Alex Morgan, who has said she wasn't contacted by the Thorns despite offering to corroborate Shim's complaint against Riley. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: USA Curling 'reviewing' report detailing current CEO's involvement in systemic abuse in NWSL

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