By Juliet Macur
There were smiles all around Thursday night when Hope Solo extended her shutout record to 73 in the United States national women’s soccer team’s 4-0 victory over Mexico in Rochester.
Fans cheered, and the players, as they often do, posed for photos and signed autographs with the young girls who revere them. Ah, to be a strong and successful role model, especially for the next generation, and to have the honor to represent your country.
But look past the patina of glee and here’s what you will see: a team and a league — not named the N.F.L. this time — that are tone-deaf when it comes to domestic violence and how they handle players who have been accused of it.
It takes a lot to match the N.F.L. these days when it comes to missteps in the handling of players charged with assaulting family members and loved ones. But Thursday, at a time when domestic violence in sports is dominating the national conversation, U.S. Soccer did just that — again — by keeping Solo in goal when she shouldn’t have been anywhere near it.
Solo, one of the biggest and most marketable stars in women’s sports, is facing domestic violence charges from an episode over the summer in which she is accused of punching her sister and her 17-year-old nephew at a late-night party.
According to a police account of the episode, Solo was the primary aggressor and instigator of an assault at a family party that left her sister and nephew with noticeable injuries to their heads and faces. She has pleaded not guilty; her trial is set for November.
One can argue the differences between an N.F.L. player punching his soon-to-be wife and a soccer star brawling with her family, but it is indisputable that both qualify as domestic violence.
The glaring contrast in Solo’s case is that while several football playersrecently accused of assaults have been removed from the field, she has been held up for praise by the national team. On Thursday she was even given the honor of wearing the captain’s armband in celebration of her setting the team’s career record for shutouts in its previous game.
The question is why. Celebrating Solo’s achievement right now is like allowing running back Adrian Peterson, who has been accused of child abuse, to continue to play for the Minnesota Vikings — and then awarding him the game ball for his next 100-yard game.
If that wouldn’t happen in the N.F.L., it shouldn’t happen in women’s sports, either.
Yet U.S. Soccer, showing that it has no sense regarding this issue, went ahead and gave Solo a very public pat on the back.
Every case involving domestic violence charges has its own circumstances, including the one in 2012 in which Solo’s boyfriend at the time was accused of assaulting her. (Those charges were later dropped.) When Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson were arrested, there were loud calls for those players to be suspended. The response to Solo’s case? The sound of crickets — except on game days, when it changes to applause. And that’s inexcusable.
Maybe everyone is just too busy calling out the N.F.L. for its ineptitude, but a light needs to shine on Solo’s legal problems, too. It shows that domestic violence isn’t committed only by men, even if Solo is eventually cleared of the charges against her.
The court has ordered Solo to stay away from her sister and nephew and to refrain from drinking alcohol. At the same time, U.S. Soccer and the Seattle Reign, her team in the National Women’s Soccer League, have put on blinders. Solo played on as Seattle advanced to the league’s title game last month, and she played on this week as the national team continued preparations for next month’s qualifiers for the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
The Reign rationalized their decision to keep her on the field by saying they were gathering evidence on the case. U.S. Soccer is apparently following suit.
How convenient for Solo, and for them, that her trial will not start until after the United States has claimed its place in the World Cup. If she were a marginal player, though, I bet both organizations would have benched her without a second thought.
It’s possible to understand the team’s cowardice: A league trying to sustain itself has an incentive to protect its stars.
But how does U.S. Soccer rationalize giving Solo the honor of playing for the national team, or of then making her its captain?
Before Solo set the shutout record, Neil Buethe, a spokesman for U.S. Soccer, told USA Today that the organization knew Solo was dealing with “a personal situation,” which played down the gravity of the accusations against her.
“At the same time,” he said, justifying the celebration of Solo’s impending record, “she has an opportunity to set a significant record that speaks to her hard work and dedication over the years with the national team. While considering all factors involved, we believe that we should recognize that in the proper way.”
Buethe did not immediately respond to emails and voice mail messages Friday. Solo has apologized on Facebook for what she characterized as “a highly unfortunate incident.” She said she looked forward to getting back on the field, “where I belong.”
But actually she doesn’t. Not in a world in which female and male athletes are ever to be treated equally.
Domestic violence is abhorrent whether men or women are the perpetrators! The NFL rightly deserved the criticism their efforts to deflect from the appalling violent behavior of some its players. But Hope Solo’s being charged of assault on her sister and nephew with noticeable injuries to their heads and faces has barely merited a comment from the media until now. More hypocritically is the stance (or lack of) stance of the U.S. Soccer and the Seattle Reign, her team in the National Women’s Soccer League on this issue. She has been rightly celebrated for her on field achievements, and yet not a peep of criticism about her off field allegedly violent behavior –her main sponsor, Nike has gone from swoosh to silent. Complete double standards prevail here – recent studies show over 40% domestic violence victims are male.
Violence has no gender, and sporting idols of both genders should be held to the same standards, or else what messages are being given to the children who idolize them. It’s time to step it up!