Jeff Jacobs column: Solo mess should start debate over double standards
Hope Solo has become the most important sports story of 2015. Solo is not, as many have claimed, the female Ray Rice or Ray Rice without the video. Despite her husband's assertion, she certainly isn't the victim of a witch hunt. There is much to ...
Hope Solo has become the most important sports story of 2015.
Solo is not, as many have claimed, the female Ray Rice or Ray Rice without the video. Despite her husband’s assertion, she certainly isn’t the victim of a witch hunt.
There is much to despise about what Solo is accused of doing in a family brawl last June. There is much to despise about her drunken, threatening words to the Kirkland, Wash., police when they responded. No matter how hard U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati has tried to wish the ugliness away, the ugliness doesn’t go away. No matter how hard coach Jill Ellis and her players have tried to paint it as old news, it isn’t old news as long as important unresolved matters remain.
Hope may be Solo, but, like it or not, we’re all in it with her now. She represents us. With each brilliant save she makes on the international stage, our bond only grows tighter. With each step the Americans make toward the World Cup final on July 5, the larger and more complex the debate becomes and the more questions we should ask ourselves.
Look in the mirror, America. What do we want to see?
Do we want the U.S. women’s soccer fairy tale? Do we want the Hope Solo nightmare? Or are we willing to live with some of both? Hope Solo isn’t Cinderella and she isn’t Charles Manson. Yet as her distasteful saga carries on, people will take from the Solo mess what they want. Agendas mean conclusions with absolute and finite points of view.
The horror of family violence? A soccer governing body that hid in a cowardly manner and is more concerned with winning than human decency? A U.S. senator who engaged in a bit of grandstanding? A media too quick to marry Solo’s family violence to Rice’s spousal abuse? An athlete with so much baggage, who shamelessly went on “Good Morning America” proclaiming herself the victim of domestic violence? A husband who is bad news? A U.S. women’s team that is beloved and idolized by youngsters like none other in America? A country stuck deciding whether it can cheer for its team while hating what Solo is accused of doing?
Which card do you want to play? At this point, I am no longer inclined to separate any of it. It’s far too late to call for Solo’s suspension from the World Cup. That’s what should have happened. Do wrong, get punished, move on. This isn’t one of those cases. What has evolved is a messy stew.
Yes, it’s about U.S. Soccer’s weak response, how it operated without urgency and for months made no statement. Yes, it’s also about how we look at the various tentacles of domestic violence and how we view female athletes compared to their male counterparts. It’s about all of it.
ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” changed the Solo narrative with its report on the eve of the World Cup. In his response to Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s burning letter to U.S. Soccer, Gulati wrote he never got to see all that ESPN had uncovered because half the police report he received was redacted and he hadn’t received the supplemental report. Gulati admitted he never talked to the two complaining witnesses because they probably would have contradicted Solo’s version. Well, duh.
Gulati said he hadn’t seen the police account of how Solo told one officer if he took off the handcuffs she would kick his ass, and she called him the “b-word.” How she suggested her jailers were having sex with each other and called one a 14-year-old boy.
Those words came after a brawl at her half-sister Teresa Obert’s house. After trading insults, Solo and Obert’s 6-foot-8, 270-pound son allegedly got into it. After the nephew subdued her, he allegedly let her up and Solo grabbed his hair, banged his head into the cement and punched him in the face. Solo allegedly struck her half-sister as she tried to break up the brawl. The nephew, 17 at the time, allegedly hit Solo over the head with a broom handle and pointed an unloaded BB gun at her.
Without video like in the Rice case, there always will remain an element of he-said, she-said. Yet people who point out that the two counts of domestic violence against Solo were dismissed overlook the fact the case was dropped on procedural grounds. Obert and the nephew refused to be deposed by the defense. After Solo’s appearance on “GMA,” however, Obert said she felt differently. At any rate, prosecutors now have decided to file an appeal starting in mid-July.
All of this is fairly ugly. Yet mark these words. This is not a case of Rice knocking out his wife in an Atlantic City hotel elevator. As the Solo story evolved, it became de rigueur to point out a great double standard. You know, Hope Solo is getting away with domestic violence because she’s a woman.
It is good that the sports media is finally waking up to the scourge of domestic violence and collectively bringing its weight to the issue. But we also have to recognize the term “domestic violence” is a general description. Same with politicians.
This isn’t to minimize Solo’s actions in a family brawl. She is trouble. TMZ reported recently that Solo bullied a student in high school to the point she was hit with a restraining order. Solo’s complex relationship with her late father, a homeless felon, was documented in her autobiography. Solo went as far as to reveal she was conceived during one of her mother’s conjugal visits with father.
Solo’s husband Jerramy Stevens, a former Seahawks tight end, has a history that includes DUI and pot arrests, a hit-and-run and an accusation of rape at the University of Washington that resulted in Stevens paying $300,000 in a civil suit. And, oh, he allegedly assaulted Solo at a party only hours before they were married - that charge was dropped for lack of evidence.
In January, Stevens was arrested for DUI while operating a national team van during a team camp. Solo, with Stevens at the time, was suspended for a month by U.S. Soccer. Solo, of course, famously lit up former coach Greg Ryan for benching her during the 2007 World Cup. Solo was right that she should have played, but she handled herself without dignity and temporarily became a pariah. In her memoirs, she accused her “Dancing With the Stars” partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy of slapping her in the face in 2011. She wrote that “Dancing With the Stars” was rigged. Stories of her drinking are no secret and she recently said she is undergoing therapy for the first time in her life.
Let’s put it this way. She has baggage. But she’s not Ray Rice.
Nowhere in sports has a tie between the athletes and a younger generation been any tighter than with U.S. women’s soccer. For years, youngsters have surrounded the national team with reverence. It’s like a rock concert. The message has been a powerful one. These strong, wonderful women help empower young girls to be what they want to be. In selling the sport, U.S. Soccer and great players have rejoiced in that message.
If some people want to argue that Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo, etc., should not be held up as role models any more than Tom Brady, LeBron James and Alex Rodriguez, then that is a debate worth examining. Is that, as some have suggested, the price of equality? Should we shrug our shoulders at what Solo has done and point out that it happens often enough among NFL players? Should we argue that what matters is what happens on the field? Should the parents of all these young girls tell them that, ah, they aren’t role models after all?
I don’t know. You tell me. We’re all in it together now. And this is messy.
Jeff Jacobs is a sports columnist for the Hartford Courant