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Does the Hope Solo Debate Miss the Larger Issue?

There has been ongoing media attention over the past few months on domestic violence within professional sports. The media has been focused primarily on the National Football League and its long overdue new policy of benching athletes charged with domestic violence, with the focus currently on Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens and the video that went viral of him knocking his then fiancé unconscious in an elevator. However, more recently, local attention has focused on Seattle’s own Hope Solo, the star goal keeper of the Seattle Reign and the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team who was arrested earlier this year for allegedly attacking her sister and 17 year-old nephew. Her court date is set for January 20, 2015.

Unlike the big news splash that Ray Rice made, very little has been said in the national media about Solo’s upcoming case. In fact, after a short break from the game following the domestic violence incident, Solo quietly went back to playing for her teams. Her return has generated some buzz and general controversy over the way the U.S. Women’s national team has handled Solo’s situation.  Many people have asked why it is that, when an NFL player is charged with domestic violence he is suspended immediately, but a female soccer player who is charged not only with domestic violence, but also child abuse, is allowed to continue playing while her court proceedings are pending? Is this fair? Is it a double standard? When asked about this, Neil Buethe, director of communications for U.S. Soccer stated, "We are aware that Hope is handling a personal situation at this moment. At the same time, she has an opportunity to set a significant record that speaks to her hard work and dedication over the years with the National Team. While considering all factors involved, we believe that we should recognize that in the proper way."

By taking such a position, it is hard to tell whether the U.S. Soccer is attempting to focus on Solo’s hard work on the team and downplay the domestic violence charge by saying Solo is “handling a personal situation,” or simply implying that setting records is more important than setting an example for soccer players and fans. No matter how you view it, the majority doesn’t seem to be too happy with U.S. Soccer’s response. Most folks were wondering - shouldn’t Hope Solo be suspended from the team until her legal issues are resolved, just like any other athlete? As one might expect, the popular question then became why was it so easy for the U. S. Soccer league to decide in the alternative? The answer appears to be three-fold.

First of all, some people argue that there is a gender double standard. Female perpetrators of domestic violence are under acknowledged and under reported. Statistically speaking, females are less likely to be charged, less likely to be convicted, and more likely to serve shorter sentences for domestic violence than men. Second, like it or not, the attention given to female sports is vastly less than the coverage given to the male dominated NFL. Because of this discrepancy, female athletes are able, to some degree, to stay out of the limelight. Undoubtedly, this makes it easier for their institutions to brush incidents, such as Hope Solo’s, under the proverbial rug. And third, unlike the Ray Rice situation, in Solos’s case there is no glaring piece of evidence in the public spotlight. There is substantial evidence to demonstrate that Rice punched his fiancé in the head and then unceremoniously dragged her unconscious body out of the elevator because the whole thing was recorded and made available to anyone that wanted to watch it on the internet. This is not the case with Solo.  All we know about the crime she is charged with comes from statements given by those involved in the crime as opposed to the outrageous video release of Ray Rice.

So should hope Solo have been suspended? Maybe. Or maybe this isn’t the right question to be asking at all. With all the focus on why Hope Solo hasn’t been treated the same as Ray Rice and other athletes charged with domestic violence, it seems that the real issue has been obscured. That issue is of course domestic violence itself. Perhaps the important questions we should be asking is what is being done to treat and prevent domestic violence in professional sports. Recently, in light of the high-profile domestic violence incidents, the NFL has taken steps not only to properly sanction guilty parties, but also to focus on prevention and support.

A newly developed social responsibility department in the league has been working hard the last few months in the role of addressing these serious issues. Some of the headway they have made includes creating and sending lists to the league’s 32 clubs containing contact information on support organizations in their communities and ways in which they can partner with these groups. The NFL social responsibility team hired outside experts to compile these lists as well as assist in the creation of an enhanced domestic violence policy. In October, Domestic violence and sexual assault seminars were held at each of the 32 teams’ facilities, where three or four league representatives taught an hour-long program with coaches, players and team personnel about behaviors that will not be tolerated and what resources are available if outside help is needed. The responsibility department has explained that the next step will be training people within the organization who can identify warning signs or risk factors for cases of domestic violence and ultimately help athletes deal with their issues before violence can occur.

With the NFL poised to make what will hopefully be a real change in the future of domestic violence within the sport, the next logical step would be how can this change be applied to all professional sports and athletes. Should each sporting league create a department similar to the NFL’s responsibility department? Or perhaps a committee should be formed that encompasses all professional sports with the means to investigate and assist given the many important issues that can arise. The right answer is not clear. One thing is clear however: whether or not Hope Solo is treated the same as Ray Rice really isn’t the biggest issue facing professional sports today. Rather, the big issue is how can professional sports implement and uniformly enforce polices to stop domestic violence in its tracks, across the board, in all of sports and what we as fans can do to embrace and assist, across the board, in achieving that goal.

If you are interested in learning more about Hope Solo’s case or domestic violence in professional sports feel free to check out the links below:

http://espn.go.com/espnw/news-commentary/article/11569863/why-feel-bad-my-last-hope-solo-column

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/06/23/the-hope-solo-case-why-do-we-laugh-when-abusers-are-female.html

https://showmethemoneysjfc.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/hope-solo-should-be-suspended-too/

http://mmqb.si.com/2014/09/23/nfl-roger-goodell-domestic-violence-plan/

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