One of the many peculiarities of covering women’s soccer is seeing something you’ve known about and discussed in public for a long time suddenly becoming “news” because someone with a platform suddenly noticed it.
That was the case a couple of years ago, when one writer at a major publication wrote about Lori Chalupny’s predicament of being cleared to play in pro soccer but not cleared to play for the national team. Another major writer said he had been working on the same story. Women’s soccer reporters weren’t working on it because we all knew about it and talked about it openly, and it was a little surprising to see people surprised about this.
This year, it’s Hope Solo.
We all know for Solo was arrested in June and pleaded not guilty to two counts of fourth-degree domestic violence, a gross misdemeanor, after a family fight. Solo’s 17-year-old nephew says she got an argument with him, charged him and punched him. Then, he says, she attacked his mother when she tried to intervene. Solo’s lawyer says Solo was actually the victim and is looking forward to making that case Nov. 4.
The Seattle Reign briefly benched Solo, but she played most of the rest of the season without major incident.
Then came the controversial part.
With Solo poised to break the U.S. women’s shutout record, the press kicked into gear a bit. The most notable effort: Christine Brennan, my colleague from my USA TODAY days, who wrote the following:
These are disturbing charges against one of the more famous role models in women’s sports, coming at a time when the issue of domestic violence has become a focal point for the nation after the terrible Ray Rice video and his controversial two-game suspension from the NFL.
Nonetheless, U.S. Soccer, the national governing body for the sport in the United States, decided to go ahead with its promotion of Solo this week.
What a mistake this is.
This is not the time for U.S. Soccer to be celebrating Solo and her accomplishments.
Brennan followed up, traveling down to North Carolina to see Solo’s attempt to break the record, which was also apparently some sort of game between the USA and Switzerland. But Solo didn’t break the record, and Brennan was unable to interview Solo. There are a couple of sides to the story of how Brennan and Solo didn’t chat, but it has to be said that Solo has been evading the media this season the way Obi-Wan Kenobi evaded stormtroopers in the Death Star, and the code of silence in women’s soccer is far greater than it is in the men’s game. (Brennan, of course, was abused on Twitter — fans should know by now that the louder they shout, the more likely journalists are to tune them out.)
Fast forward a few weeks. The USA played a couple of games against horribly overmatched Mexico. Solo broke the record and was honored with the captain’s armband in the next game. Coach Jill Ellis gave a lot of players a chance to get some game time in those games, but Solo played the full 180.
Then, all of a sudden, “everyone” noticed that a domestic violence suspect was playing for the U.S. national team. And with the NFL dealing with Ray Rice et al, it was time for the outrage machine to spin into motion.
Washington Post, New York Times, ESPNW … everyone started talking about the case “no one” was talking about. They didn’t seem to mind how badly it undercut their point to mention a USA TODAY column that had been written a month ago.
Some of us had misgivings for weeks. I think it was absurd to make such a big deal out of the shutout record in the first place, and making her captain was just thumbing our noses at karma.
But here’s the thing: It’s too late for the outrage.
Sure, maybe some of you just put 2 and 2 together and realized there’s a domestic violence case in women’s soccer. And your concern is being hijacked by the “men’s rights” blowhards standing up for those poor oppressed men who get suspended for punching their fiancees unconscious in a case with a clear-cut evidence.
Solo’s case isn’t Ray Rice’s. First of all, the evidence is anything but clear-cut. Sadly, we have to prepare ourselves for the possibility that we may never know what happened on the night in question. It’s two people’s word against Solo’s, and the police may or may not have enough evidence to figure out who’s telling the truth. Solo apologized on Facebook while understandably avoiding any details, which either means she’s sorry for something or was simply doing what her legal and PR folks wanted.
Her case is also much more complex. It’s difficult to imagine that Solo was just sitting quietly in her relatives’ house and was suddenly attacked by two people, but was she provoked? Whose words led to whose attack? Is anyone in the house blameless? (Even in the nephew’s account to police, he says he insulted Solo and her late father. That’s provocative in every sense.)
There’s really no case as yet to deny Solo her profession. I don’t recall any people insisting that she couldn’t play for the Reign. The Washington Post‘s Cindy Boren, who started the Solo outrage bandwagon on Friday but was well aware of the case in June. (If she called for the Reign to bench Solo, my apologies — I couldn’t find it.)
Was it proper for U.S. Soccer to honor Solo while a domestic violence case hung over her head? Probably not. And it wasn’t really necessary to play her at all in those friendlies, much less play her the whole time.
But now? Sorry, but that ship sailed.
You simply can’t suspend Hope Solo for Women’s World Cup qualifiers just because a few journalists suddenly saw a disconnect between her treatment and Ray Rice’s. Maybe you can do it if TMZ suddenly comes up with video from the house where Solo and her relatives had a disagreement. Otherwise, no.
The facts haven’t changed. You can’t go back and make Solo hand back the captain’s armband for her team’s ritual destruction of Mexico. It’s not OK for her to play for three months and then suddenly not play her just because a column went viral.
Algarve Cup next spring? We’ll see. For now? She plays.
Update: Here’s a statement from U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati: “U.S. Soccer takes the issue of domestic violence very seriously. From the beginning, we considered the information available and have taken a deliberate and thoughtful approach regarding Hope Solo’s status with the National Team. Based on that information, U.S. Soccer stands by our decision to allow her to participate with the team as the legal process unfolds. If new information becomes available we will carefully consider it.”
I’d still like someone to ask Jill Ellis why it was a good idea to make a fuss over the shutout record, which is just a sign that coaches tend to leave her in the full 90 in the WNT’s many blowouts, and make her captain. Keith Olbermann just pounced on that like sportswriters pouncing on a buffet.