So this is what equality looks like. Finally, sports writers care enough about women’s sports to bother digging into a female athlete’s personal life and find out she’s a mess: married to a man once accused of hitting her, brawling with her own family members, and getting belligerent with cops when they pull over her husband for driving drunk in the team van. But damn can Hope Solo play—and that’s why she should play. For the same reasons Allen Iverson played, Ray Lewis played, and Ty Cobb played. Don’t let Roger Goodell’s optics-oriented attempts at turning football (a sport based on beating people up) into a morality play disguise the truth. Players play to win, fans watch teams that win, and only a fool thinks the U.S. Women’s National Team can go all the way without Solo.
But she’s an example for the children! Sure. She’s also an example of great goalkeeping—and of how being amazing at one thing doesn’t automatically make a person any less screwed up off the field. The Brands™ have no problem letting men market themselves as flawed, dangerous, and difficult. Nike built an entire ad campaign around Charles Barkley, who spat on a little girl, drank before games, and lost $10 million to a gambling problem. All Barkley had to do was stare into the camera and declare “I am not a role model.”
Barkley’s still on TV, and still not a role model. Solo doesn’t have to be one either.
But this was domestic violence, and the Brands™ want to get tough on it! But that’s pretty much where the similarities end between what Solo did and the actions of the person she often gets compared to, Ray Rice.
According to records obtained by ESPN’s Outside the Lines, a drunk Solo traded insults with her then-17-year-old nephew before jumping him and hitting him several times inside a converted garage. The nephew subdued Solo but freed her at the insistence of his mother, Teresa Obert, Solo’s half-sister. That’s when Solo attacked again and, as the boy told police, grabbed his hair, yanked him down, and punched him in the face repeatedly. In a separate deposition, he said Solo bashed his head into the concrete. Obert pulled Solo off her son and Solo began punching her in the face. Obert told her son to call police and he shouted into the phone: “Hope Solo is going psychotic; she’s fucking beating people up, and we need help.” After she was taken by police, Solo stayed belligerent, reportedly telling one officer “I’d kick your ass.”
It’s awful. I wouldn’t wish it on any family. But let me take a moment here to talk about two separate crimes that often lumped together in the domestic-violence basket: intimate-partner violence and family violence. Solo and her nephew aren’t in an intimate relationship. That seems almost silly to point out, but it’s those connections that contribute to the sick cycle of intimate-partner violence, which is usually what people are talking about when they bring up domestic violence. Victims often live with their abusers, financially rely on them, have children with them. Abusers use their emotional power over victims to manipulate them, make them stay, even convince victims it was their fault.
Solo’s got a bond with her nephew and half-sister, sure, but is it akin to the power Ray Rice held over Janay when he cold-cocked her—an incident for which she publicly apologized—and less than two months later married her? Is the relationship anyone has with a spouse like the one with a nephew or grown sibling? No. That’s why, when measuring intimate-partner violence, the federal government makes it clear what it leaves out: non-intimate family members, friends, acquaintances, and strangers.
Lumping Solo together with Rice is lazy and dangerous and does a disservice to victims of both intimate-partner violence and family violence, grossly ignoring how different relationships play out in life and in a courtroom, and suggesting a one-size-fits-all mentality toward addressing these complex issues. It also requires discounting history and why the courts treat beating up a spouse or lover differently than other assaults. I’ll defer to Ta-Nehisi Coates writing for The Atlantic:
In our society we recognize different kinds of violence. We understand, for instance, that lynching enjoys a particular place in American history. We generally grant that Emmett Till was not merely murdered, but that he was murdered in a fashion that places his death in a specifically heinous tradition in our history. And thus we understand that what happened to Till, or what James Byrd, or what happened to Sam Hose is not the same thing as what happened to Tupac Shakur or Sam Cooke. This does not mean that what happened to Shakur or Cooke was good. It means that it wasn’t a lynching.
In the history of humanity, spouse-beating is a particularly odious tradition—one often employed by men looking to exert power over women. Just as lynching in America is not a phenomenon wholly confined to black people, spouse-beatings are not wholly confined to women. But in our actual history, women have largely been on the receiving end of spouse-beating. We have generally recognized this in our saner moments. There is a reason why we call it the “Violence Against Women Act” and not the “Brawling With Families Act.” That is because we recognize that violence against women is an insidious, and sometimes lethal, tradition that deserves a special place in our customs and laws.
The U.S. Soccer Federation made a misstep in trying to claim a moral high ground, saying it did an investigation that, like any sports organization’s investigation, was brief, cursory, and flawed. That’s no surprise. Goodell convinced football fans that he could do a better version of policing domestic violence than our court system. So far, he’s given us pithy donations, domestic violence training that its own players say isn’t working, and a celebrity-driven, shadily financed PR campaign that doesn’t provide any services to victims. And football teams still employ fixers to make these “problems” go away before they become public. Why? Because the NFL is entertainment, the Women’s World Cup is entertainment, and the men and women running these shows are just as unqualified to play judge and jury as music label owners or Hollywood studio heads, who should looked to for moral guidance on absolutely nothing.
So go ahead, get mad at U.S. Soccer’s Sunil Gulati for being really bad at faking like he cares about anything beyond fielding the strongest team possible. Get angry at Solo for being, at best, a flawed and unlikeable person. Roll your eyes at talking heads trying to discount Solo’s assault as a distraction, a cue straight from the NFL playbook. When a young girl asks to buy a Solo jersey, by all means say no and explain why.
But don’t get mad over Solo playing. Sports fans long ago learned to accept our male heroes as anything but heroic. It’s time to let our women be the same.
Image via Getty