Wrong time to suspend Hope Solo

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.

An offbeat proposal for NWSL 2015

We can’t be too surprised by this report:

Equalizer Soccer – Documents: Canada to withhold players from NWSL before World Cup; Herdman stresses player health.

We can get a good laugh over John Herdman’s complaint about players getting too many games on artificial turf when they’ll be playing the Cup on the fake stuff (hopefully better fake stuff than in most NWSL facilities), but the fact is we’re looking at a difficult scheduling question here. The World Cup runs from June 6 to July 5. Women’s national teams are even more insistent than men’s national teams when it comes to getting their players together ahead of a major competition.

So are we looking at an NWSL season in which the national team players will miss half the games? Yes.

So what do we do about it?

Option 1: Just deal with it and play a season in which the best players aren’t around most of the time.

Option 2: Forget player loans, both incoming and outgoing. Extend the season into September and maybe October. Loans out to Australia or in from Europe won’t be practical any more, which will limit the player pool a bit, but the league could take a bit of a break for the Cup and still play a significant number of games.

Option 3: A split season. (I did say “offbeat,” didn’t I?) Here’s how it works:

First of all, with all apologies to the Algarve Cup, the league can’t put everything on hold so you get full representation from the USA in World Cup years. The NWSL season starts in early March. The first half of the season runs 8-9 weeks, with all the national team players on board. If the league is up to 10 teams in 2015, then that’s time to play each other team once.

The top team in the first half of the season is automatically seeded into the playoffs.

The second half, without the World Cup-bound players, is a new season of sorts. Once again, play 9-10 games over 8-9 weeks. And the top team in the second half is automatically seeded into the playoffs.

In mid-July, once everyone has taken a one-week breather from the Cup, we return to NWSL play. Two teams have qualified for the playoffs. The other eight try to qualify. Split into two four-team brackets — probably two-leg aggregate series, with the team with the best overall record hosting the second leg. (Even better: the Page playoff system I’ve long sought for MLS, giving significant advantages for top seeds while giving most teams at least one home game.)

The disadvantage for the top two teams is that they’ll be sitting idle while all this is going on. Why not spend that time having an international tournament? Invite the Champions League winner and Japanese champion for a four-team tournament.

So by August 10 or so, we would have four teams ready for the NWSL playoffs: The winner from each season, and the winner from each four-team bracket. Wrap it up by Sept. 1 so players can go out on offseason loans. And the USSF could still do its revenue-friendly “Victory Tour” from September to November in which they’ll examine the player pool for the Olym– … yeah, I nearly said that with a straight face. In reality, of course, they’ll send the Olympic players around to play easy friendlies and sign autographs. It’s easy for us to laugh, but it makes money from women’s soccer, and the sport can’t afford to pass that up.

Too complicated? Too whimsical? Too sensible to happen in real life? What do you think?

Women’s soccer, the new league and Hope Solo: Can’t we all just get along?

We got two fillings for THIS?

There’s three sides to every story — yours and mine and the cold, hard truth Don Henley

There’s blood in my mouth ’cause I’ve been biting my tongue all week Rilo Kiley

Jules: Yolanda, I thought you said you were gonna be cool. Now when you yell at me, it makes me nervous. And when I get nervous, I get scared. And when (bleepers) get scared, that’s when (bleepers) accidentally get shot.
Yolanda: You just know, you touch him, you die.
Jules: Well, that seems to be the situation. But I don’t want that. And you don’t want that. And Ringo here *definitely* doesn’t want that.Pulp Fiction

Maybe I’m reaching with the last one. Perhaps I should’ve skipped to the part where Jules says the Ezekiel verse one last time and says he’s trying real hard to be the shepherd. The U.S. women’s soccer community could use a shepherd.

As you know if you follow me on Twitter, I bought Hope Solo’s memoir, skimmed the personal parts and read the soccer parts. No offense intended to her personal story — I was just in a hurry to learn what she had said.

I mentioned a couple of things that surprised me. One was a quote that I thought could be taken the wrong way. Another was that she reiterated her racism accusations against Boston Breakers fans, accusations that most of us thought had been put to rest.

People were angry with me. A couple of them were people I respect and like, and we talked it out. A couple were people I don’t know as well who slung a few drive-by insults at me and declined to elaborate on what exactly I’d said.

The latter isn’t a surprise. Solo has a legion of fans who will mobilize against any alleged “hater,” even if she doesn’t ask them to do so. Just check out the reviews at Amazon, where the one person to say anything negative is marked with the dreaded “1 in 24 people found the following review helpful.” (To be sure, the review doesn’t say much. But some of the other reviews marked as “helpful” are simply insane.)

If anyone’s reading here wondering if I’m going to be a “hater,” you might be disappointed. I didn’t hate this book. Her story is well-written — co-writer Ann Killion is never one to mince words (ask Don Garber), and the book moves briskly. And though some people come across better than others, this book wasn’t written to settle grudges. It’s her story. She spends much more time talking about the truly important people in her life — family and a few supportive coaches — than she does about her conflicts. Plenty of people will find this book inspiring.

If you read the book, just remember the Don Henley quote here. There are multiple sides to every story.

Continue reading Women’s soccer, the new league and Hope Solo: Can’t we all just get along?