Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/n_miller/
by Jacquelyn Herder
During the past few weeks, headlines have been filled with declarations, accusations, mea culpas, and the opinions of sports commentators, figures, and fans speaking out about the recent accusations of domestic violence against NFL players.[i] At the forefront of most headlines is the National Football League (NFL) with Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and a slew of football players who have been “exposed” as domestic abusers. The NFL has imposed sanctions on the players as some of them await legal ramifications, and the public outcry has been substantial and profound.[ii]
The NFL is arguably one of the most popular professional sports leagues in the U.S., which puts the league under constant public scrutiny.[iii] Accordingly, society has voiced its opinion about the recent domestic abuse allegations and demanded the NFL to impose internal punishments to those players who are facing legal accusations.[iv] With every press conference, the outrage grows.[v]
The NFL is Not Alone…
However, in the middle of all the hoopla, another well-known athlete, who continues to play and remains as an active member of the roster, also has an upcoming trial for domestic abuse – but no one has said a word. Who? U.S. women’s soccer sensation, Hope Solo.
During the 2012 Summer Olympics, Solo enjoyed a brief reign as America’s Sweetheart – she was heralded by magazines as beautiful, and has been celebrated by her sport for her extraordinary skills and athleticism as a soccer goalie.[vi] She was outspoken, unabashed in her opinions, and America loved her for it. In June of 2013, Solo was arrested and charged with assaulting her sister and 17 year-old nephew.[vii] Currently, Hope Solo is awaiting trial, just like Adrian Peterson.
Also like Peterson, Solo is sponsored by Nike. However, Nike dropped Peterson since news broke about his domestic violence incident. In contrast, Solo continues to be sponsored by Nike, and no comment has been made on the company’s behalf. Peterson and Rice – among others – have been deactivated and are unable to play until their respective legal issues are resolved. Solo, who was arrested in June, has continued to play with relatively little scandal. Rice jerseys have been returned or exchanged with the blessing of the NFL, while Solo has been greeted with cheers and applause at games. [viii] In fact, Solo has not only been allowed to play since her arrest in June, but she has also been named captain of her soccer team.[ix]
U.S. Soccer Responds?
The only comments made by U.S. Soccer were in August 2014, before a game against Switzerland. In an article published on August 21, 2014 in USA Today, U.S. Soccer President, Sunil Gulati, made no mention of allowing Solo to play despite her upcoming trial. [x] Gulati only said that the federation was only aware of her personal and legal issues. In fact, U.S. Soccer spokesman Neil Buethe went so far as to say that the general public should bear in mind that Solo has the chance to set career records, and maybe focus on that instead of a domestic abuse charge.[xi]
While women’s soccer does not have the same level of fandom as football, the distinct disconnect between reactions is unsettling. Solo was charged with two counts of misdemeanor domestic abuse, and the public response has been completely different than that given the NFL.
The NFL’s on-going response, while far from perfect, at the very least denounces domestic violence. U.S. Soccer’s response has not even addressed the problem, and has allowed a star player to continue to play. U.S. Soccer has implicitly stated that the organization will wait until the conclusion of legal proceedings before internally addressing the issue. But what kind of message is that sending?[xii]
In an effort to keep the focus on soccer, the federation is not dealing with an issue that so clearly needs to be addressed. In Solo’s case, the narrative is different than the traditional story– it features a female abuser. That distinction does not make the issue any less important to discuss, nor does it make the victim any less a victim. Most poignantly, the change in this narrative does not make domestic abuse any less a crime. It is necessary to discuss the charges against Solo as it illustrates that domestic abuse is a prevalent issue that does not solely impact a certain type of person or situation.
U.S. Soccer has put Solo’s criminal allegations on a much lower pedestal than her role as a goalkeeper, by not taking a stance on the issue. Solo is no less a role model because she plays soccer instead of football, just as she is no less an abuser because she is a woman instead of a man. [xiii]
Domestic Violence: Legal and Social Issue
When it comes to domestic abuse, the legal and social issues are deeply intertwined. Neither the NFL nor U.S. Soccer has dealt with the domestic abuse allegations of members of their sports in the best manner possible. Some people believe that these organizations do not have the right to sanction players before the legal outcome is determined.[xiv] Others say that the NFL and U.S. Soccer have a duty and obligation to deter criminal activity by preventing players from participating in games and events until after a conviction.[xv]
There are some differences between Solo’s case and the incidents involving NFL players. Solo is charged with a misdemeanor.[xvi] The NFL players were all accused of felonies. However, this seeming double standard should be addressed because the crime at hand is a people issue, not a gender issue. Regardless of whether or not the crime is a misdemeanor or a felony, the conduct is still wrong and a very real social problem.
The conversation about Hope Solo needs to start, and it should share the spotlight with the NFL. Domestic abuse should not be swept under the rug when gender norms are displaced, or when it affects a less popular sport. Solo is a role model and she is also an alleged abuser. U.S. Soccer needs to step up and take action.
The allegations against Solo should be utilized to open dialogue, and bring light to the different faces of domestic abuse. This issue is larger than sports, and it needs to be addressed regardless of the perpetrator.
[i] See Richard Sandomir, Game Day Reports: Off-the-Field Violence, N.Y. Times, (Sept. 15, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/16/sports/football/nfl-commentators-share-insights-on-ray-rice-and-adrian-peterson.html (discussing various sports commentators, experts, and former players who have spoken out regarding emergence of domestic abuse allegations and NFL’s response).
[ii] See Jeffery Tomik, An Overdue Ruling: Outcry Forces NFL to Ban Ray Rice, Again, Wash. Post (Sept. 8, 2014), http://www.washingtonpost.com/express/wp/2014/09/08/an-overdue-ruling-outcry-forces-nfl-to-ban-ray-rice-again/ (discussing pubic response to domestic abuse allegations of NFL players and subsequent fallout).
[iii] See Darren Rovenell, NFL Most Popular for 30th Year in a Row, ESPN, http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/10354114/harris-poll-nfl-most-popular-mlb-2nd (last updated Jan. 26, 2014, 9:27 AM) (stating professional football is most popular sport in U.S. for at least 30 years, according to polls).
[vi] See Fan Zhong, Hope Solo – US Women’s National Soccer Team goalie Hope Solo, W Magazine (Oct. 2011), http://www.wmagazine.com/people/celebrities/2011/10/hope-solo-soccer-goalie/ (highlighting Solo’s rise in US from “bad-girl” to “America’s Sweetheart” as well as her position as starting goalie for women’s 2012 Olympic soccer team).
[vii] See Cindy Boren, Hope Solo and the Domestic Violence Case No One is Talking About, Wash. Post (Sept. 19, 2014), http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/early-lead/wp/2014/09/19/hope-solo-and-the-domestic-violence-case-no-one-is-talking-about/ (discussing charges against Solo and her plead).
[viii] See Darren Rovell, Fans Can Exchange Ray Rice Jerseys, ESPN, http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/11493722/baltimore-ravens-offer-fans-ray-rice-jersey-exchange (last updated Sept. 9, 2014, 10:38 AM) (reporting that Baltimore Ravens offered exchange of Ray Rice jerseys at no cost).
[ix] See Juliet Macur, In Hope Solo Case, Soccer Turns Blind Eye Toward Domestic Violence, N.Y. Times (Sept. 19, 2014), http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/20/sports/soccer/in-hope-solo-case-us-soccer-doesnt-get-it-right-either.html?referrer=&_r=0 (describing soccer fan’s reaction to Solo’s appearance at games distinctly different from that of accused NFL players).
[x] See Christine Brennan, Domestic Violence Charges Hang Over Hope Solo with Record Near, USA Today (Aug. 19. 2014), http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/soccer/2014/08/19/hope-solo-domestic-violence-charges-us-soccer/14315989/ (interviewing official U.S. Soccer spokesperson on Solo’s legal issues).
[xii] See Boren, supra note 7 (discussing different faces of role models in sports, different contexts in which domestic abuse exists, and inconsistencies in which “notion of awaiting due process is [applied]” and how those points work together to send mixed messages to society).
[xiii] See Boren, supra note 7 (discussing role Solo has in society by virtue of her position as professional soccer goalie as well as need to recognize that her gender does not negate her position as role model).
[xiv] See Howard Fendrich, After Rice, NFL Increases Domestic Violence Bans, Assoc. Press (Aug. 28, 2014, 5:53 PM), http://bigstory.ap.org/article/nfl-increases-penalties-domestic-violence (stating NFL union contends that CBA does not allow NFL to make legal sanctions).
[xv] See Ryan Wilson, US Sentator on Ray Rice Video: Goodell Shold Levy Stigger Sanctions Now,CBS Sports (Sept. 8, 2014, 12:37 PM) http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/eye-on-football/24701115/us-senator-goodell-should-levy-stiffer-sanctions-in-light-of-rice-video (providing examples of public demand for legal sanctions).