Why Did World Cup Star Hope Solo Get a Domestic Violence Free Pass?
The charges against Hope Solo for beating her nephew were dropped, but the case is not closed—even though U.S. Soccer is behaving like it doesn’t exist at all.
After the U.S women’s 3-1 win over Australia in its first match of the World Cup Monday night, Hope Solo appears to have restored her briefly besmirched reputation.
Amid the praise were passing references to the fact that Solo has been a “roller-coaster both on and off the pitch,” as CNN put it. Well, that’s one way to describe being accused of beating a minor and cursing out cops.
From the get-go, Solo had denied the charges stemming from an incident at the home of her half-sister Teresa Obert on the night of June 21, 2014.
Days after she was booked for two counts of domestic violence in the fourth degree for attacking Obert and Obert’s then-17-year-old son, Solo apologized to “fans, teammates, coaches, marketing partners and the entire U.S. Soccer and Seattle Reign FC communities for my involvement in a highly unfortunate incident this past weekend.”
She went on Good Morning America in February claiming she had been the “victim.”
The charges against Solo were dismissed on procedural grounds.
The claims seemed like water under the bridge until ESPN released a well-timed Outside the Lines investigation the day before the World Cup.
It’s clear from the report that the case is not closed. Prosecutors have filed an appeal, and they are slated to file it by July 13. The defense is scheduled to respond by August 10, and oral arguments are set to begin September 11.
The Outside the Lines report is, by no means, the equivalent of the Ray Rice elevator video.
Video of Rice punching and knocking out his now-wife, Janay Palmer Rice, in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino was released by TMZ in September, leading the National Football League to suspend him. As of last month, the criminal charges against him have been dropped.
Dissecting Solo’s police report shows that this alleged incidence of domestic violence is not clear-cut.
Solo appears to have been drunk. It allegedly began when Solo hurled insults at her nephew, calling him “fat, unathletic, and crazy” and then a “pussy” when he called for his mother for help.
The minor said in the deposition that Solo “jumped on top of me and started bashing my head into the cement.”
Obert told Outside the Lines that Solo “grabbed him by the head and she kept slamming him into the cement over and over again. So I came from behind her, and I pulled her over and, you know, to get her off my son. And then, once she got off, she started punching me in the face over and over again.”
The minor also admitted to police that in response to this alleged attack, he grabbed a BB gun and waved it at Solo to try to get her out of the house.
He also told police and stated in his deposition that he beat her over the head with a broomstick (which he sometimes refers to as a paint-roller pole), according to Outside the Lines.
There is also a significant size disparity between Solo and her nephew: She’s 5'9" and 150 pounds, and he is 6'8" and 270 pounds.
While police documented injuries on Obert and her son, Solo refused to be examined. She later claimed she was concussed “pretty severely,” but as Outside the Lines noted, there was no report of the injury.
Solo was arrested and “made numerous statements that I was not worth anything, and should be proud to have such authority,” noted one of the officers in the police report taken at the time.
Solo also was noted as threatening a cop, saying that if she weren’t cuffed, “I’d kick your ass.”
It is a messy, ugly case. It’s incomparable to the allegations made against Rice and other male athletes accused of domestic abuse, but Solo has been granted a relative free pass—and we’ve let the United States Soccer Federation (better known as U.S. Soccer) get away with it.
It’s not that we’ve exactly forgotten that Solo has some very upsetting domestic-abuse charges against her, but it’s unclear how much we care.
It would be hard for U.S. Soccer to more defiantly give zero fucks about the charges against Solo.
It was a no-brainer for U.S. Soccer to keep Solo on the pitch.
The league effectively laughed at the thought of suspending the star, even granting her the honor of team captain as she awaited her trial.
In comparison, the NFL was hammered by the press (including this outlet) when it appeared the league had viewed the Rice elevator video months before it was leaked.
The NFL also ordered its own independent investigation into the charges against Rice, even though the courts had already adjudicated the charges.
Meanwhile, U.S. Soccer apparently could not be bothered to even read the police report on Solo’s alleged abuse.
According to the Outside the Lines report, it does not appear that any official from U.S. Soccer even tried to obtain copy of the police investigation into the June 2014 incident.
At the start of the World Cup, the U.S. Soccer press office closed ranks to support Solo, especially in light of the Outside the Lines report.
Juliet Macur wrote in The New York Times that a U.S. Soccer spokesman instructed the media, “No outside questions, just on the game. Got it?”
When asked about the open domestic-violence case, Jill Ellis, the team manager, told ESPN:
“That [case] was a long time ago. I’ll be honest, we’ve moved on, and she’s been a fantastic player and teammate. None of that has even resonated with us, and I’m sure some of the players aren’t even aware of it.”
Solo’s biggest sponsor, Nike, didn’t care. The company effectively thumbed its nose at the suggestion of dropping Solo when she was mentioned in the same breath as Rice last September.
“We are aware of the allegations and that Hope Solo has pled not guilty to the charges. Hope remains a Nike athlete and we will continue to monitor the situation,” Nike spokesman Greg Rossiter said.
Nike did not respond to calls for comment from The Daily Beast.
While Nike is loath to ditch its athletes, it cut ties with Rice in September, even after he had been effectively (and debatably) cleared of his charges.
By that point, the NFL’s star domestic-abuse case had already been adjudicated and he had agreed to a pretrial intervention (PTI) deal that exempted him from prosecution.
For anyone who watched the infamous elevator video, the PTI isn’t likely to change your feelings about Rice, but it does highlight a double standard in Nike’s logic for holding on to Solo.
Of course, at that time, Nike was responding to the same public backlash that forced the NFL to back-pedal and made Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, one of the most vilified men in the U.S. at that time—and by no means undeservedly so.
While there was some hand-wringing over Solo in September when Macur compared the NFL’s response to Rice with U.S. Soccer’s failure to even slap her on the wrist, there seems relatively little anger.
The calls to hold U.S. Soccer accountable are not altogether nonexistent, but they are few and far between—and the public doesn’t seem to care all that much.
Macur is still writing about the Solo problem, framing her as a team distraction.
Mike Foss at USA Today called Solo a “trainwreck” and said Ellis should have kept her off the roster.
Even he seems more concerned that Solo brings a bad attitude and “baggage” than that she has been accused of assaulting a 17-year-old boy.
Despite the Outside the Lines special, the outrage just isn’t there.
Women-focused sites have been remiss in covering the issue, even though the start of the World Cup begs for the thorny, shady complexities of the case to be debated and brought to light.
Commendably, Jezebel cross-posted a piece its sibling site, Deadspin, did on the ESPN report, but The Cut, The Frisky, and Cosmopolitan have not run any stories on Solo’s abuse charges since they were brought up during the Rice scandal.
Of course, these sites aren’t really covering the women’s World Cup, which is part of the problem with the handling of Solo.
Part of the reason U.S Soccer gets away with keeping Solo on the team is that Americans do not watch women’s soccer in remotely comparable numbers as they watch the NFL.
That might be an extremely obvious thing to write, but it’s critical for recognizing why U.S. Soccer continues its policy of defending Solo.
The public barely cares enough to watch women’s World Cup games: Good luck getting U.S. viewers to actually take an interest in league policies on domestic abuse.
Writing for Slate, Amanda Hess brought this disparity up when she jumped into the mini-fray on Solo being compared to Rice back in September.
“Isn’t it more likely that the lack of public pressure in Solo’s case simply represents the relative lack of attention that women’s soccer receives as compared with pro football?”
I would not say that the “relative lack of attention” is the prime cause, but it’s an important factor that can’t be ignored. U.S. Soccer won’t be held accountable if no one is watching.
Moreover, the league certainly doesn’t have an incentive to bench one of the few players on the women’s team who actually snags national attention for it.
U.S. Soccer actually did suspend Solo this year when her husband, Jerramy Stevens, was arrested for a DUI in January.
Solo was not actually arrested, but reportedly “acted belligerently” toward cops, leading to a relatively brief 30-day suspension that had absolutely no impact on her ability to play in the World Cup.
Still, why did U.S. Soccer react in this incidence, but not the one where Solo actually was booked on charges?
There’s another complex factor at play, which is that we don’t quite know how to talk about women as perpetrators of domestic abuse.
Which is not to say we have mastered the dialogue when it comes to men as domestic abusers—far from it. But the women-as-abuser trope is less culturally understood than the male.
Even before the NFL was taking heat for the Rice case, Keli Goff argued in The Daily Beast there was a double standard in the relatively tepid response to Solo’s domestic-abuse charges.
Moreover, Solo’s case is also a complex one. The Outside the Lines report did not shy away from documenting the conflicting accounts of the alleged incident last June, nor did it fail to point out that Solo is significantly physically smaller than her nephew.
These are all factors that should make us scrutinize and question the charges and the incident—it’s not as black-and-white as Rice and his elevator video.
But just because it’s complex and murky doesn’t mean we should ignore it, or give Solo or the U.S. Soccer League a free pass, as Hess seemed to suggest back in September, in an article headlined, “No, Women’s Soccer Does Not Have a Domestic Violence Problem.”
As Hess argues, women’s sports leagues should indeed be a vehicle for sending positive messages to girls (and boys, for that matter). But why should that goal be prioritized over disciplining someone facing abuse charges? What lesson does that teach young women?
I can’t agree with the approach, but I am also not surprised that Hess and others are uneasy about disciplining Solo for these charges.
There is an understandable fear that highlighting a case like Solo’s will create a false similarity between the numbers and details of domestic abuse cases perpetrated by men and women.
But it is bad news for U.S. Soccer and women’s sports to ignore these charges and, worse, the league’s attempt to sweep them under the rug. It hurts the legitimacy of an athletic institution that has so much potential to do good, and set the best kinds of examples—on and off the pitch—to the soccer players of tomorrow.