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Oct. 11, 2014

Sexism evident in media's handling of Hope Solo

by Zoe Johnson, Online Editor-in-Chief
Article update at 8:17 p.m. on Oct. 13 with corrections made to clarify author's intent.

By now, everyone has heard the story that the Washington Post claims "no one is talking about." Last June, star American goalkeeper Hope Solo was arrested on domestic violence charges following an altercation with her nephew and half-sister that ended with injuries to all parties. On Sept. 13, Solo broke a U.S. Women's National Team (USWNT) record, achieving her 72nd shutout. Shortly after, such journalistic luminaries as the Washington Post, the New York Times and ESPN began publishing stories comparing Solo to Ray Rice and demanding her suspension from the USWNT.
Star goalkeeper Hope Solo was arrested on domestic assault charges. Courtesy of The Atlantic
Star goalkeeper Hope Solo was arrested on domestic assault charges.

While this may seem legitimate at first, a closer look at Solo's story raises questions. Not only about whether she should be suspended, and whether U.S. Soccer deserves blame, but about the media's treatment of Solo and Rice respectively. There are a few facts that most journalists, in condemning Solo and the USWNT, have failed to mention.

The alleged assault occurred back in June whereupon Solo was immediately arrested and given a court date. Rice, on the other hand, was arrested and released, with all criminal charges eventually dropped. The Ray Rice problem is partially about domestic violence, yes, but it's also about how the power of the NFL and the unquestioning respect afforded to football players caused a criminal to go unpunished. U.S. Soccer, on the other hand, did not try to hide the fact that one of its top players was undergoing legal issues. Rather, they have stated clearly that Solo will continue to play until the issues are resolved.

The angry editorials were written with the assumption that Solo is guilty, when the evidence they have to support that claim is slight injuries to the accusing parties, a 9/11 call and the accusers' word. Accounts have indicated that both sides were verbally and physically abusive. This is not a clear-cut case, it has not yet been heard in court and journalists are not endowed with the power to make calls on either criminal cases or professional companies' handling of said cases without evidence to support their judgment. Yes, Hope Solo was very likely the aggressor, and criminal charges should not go recognized by any organization. But the media's condemnation of Solo was not based on her actions alone.

The most outrageous claim is that Solo's actions are somehow equal to those of Ray Rice. Even supposing that Solo is guilty and deserves punishment, her situation is very different from Rice's. The implication that Rice, whose serious crime was protected and hidden, is the same as Solo, whose potential misdemeanor has been openly lambasted and condemned, is ridiculous and distracts from the real issue of domestic violence in football.
Football player Ray Rice has become an emblem of domestic violence. Courtesy of The Arizona Republic
Football player Ray Rice has become an emblem of domestic violence.

Rice is indicative of a larger problem because he belongs to an incredibly powerful sport that openly embraces violence as part of its culture. Solo, on the other hand, belongs to a traditionally ignored sport whose targeted audience includes little girls. Though, obviously, no level of domestic violence is ever acceptable, it is interesting to compare the level of violence required for media attention: Solo gets into an alcohol-fueled fight resulting in minor injuries and she makes headlines in some of the largest newspapers in the country. Floyd Mayweather, Ben Roethlisberger and countless other male athletes are accused of everything from domestic to sexual assault, and they retain their fame and fortune, only being prosecuted or even questioned about the incidents when public outcry demands it.

Which leads to the last major issue evident here. The fact that so many newspapers are claiming that U.S. Soccer's handling of the Solo case is evident of a "double standard" and demonstrates "sexism" is blatantly hypocritical when female soccer players are constantly fighting for equal coverage, equal treatment and equal respect. Despite the USWNT's incredible record—they are currently ranked #1 in the world—they receive little coverage, only making headlines when they have a player—typically Solo—under fire. If female and male players are to be punished equally, they must also be celebrated equally.

There are many reasons given as to why women's sports aren't covered, but at the core of it is the idea that this is just how things are. Newspapers can't cover women's sports because they aren't perceived as important or valuable, and women's sports aren't perceived as important or valuable because they get virtually no attention. Journalists combine active and passive sexism to produce a media wholly uninterested in women. The Post, in their column condemning Solo, claimed that no one was talking about her assault charges. This is untrue. That story was not new. What the Post meant to say was that they and their powerful friends were not talking about her assault charges because they didn't care until she could be the addendum to a story about a man.
Soccer star Abby Wambach is one of many international players suing FIFA for gender discrimination. Courtesy of Equalizer Soccer
Soccer star Abby Wambach is one of many international players suing FIFA for gender discrimination.

The real story that no one is talking about is women's equality in sports, media and life. You want Hope Solo to be treated like NFL players? Treat women's soccer like football. Get rid of the low pay, the unhealthy playing conditions (another major story being ignored by most journalists), the discrimination from federations. Hope Solo will not be treated fairly off the field until she is treated fairly on the field. If you're interested in fighting for equality, fight for all aspects of it.

To be clear, Solo's actions are in no way justified by the broken system that has maligned her. Solo is being rightfully tried for charges that may well prove true, and when it comes to combating domestic violence, there is no room for lenience. U.S. Soccer could certainly have handled the situation better; the USWNT has several very capable goalkeepers who could've taken her place, and she should not have been so widely celebrated when it's unclear whether she should be in jail. National teammate keeper Jillian Loyden, whose sister was killed as a result of domestic violence, argued that Solo should be punished by the league. I do not disagree.

However, when discussing justice of any sort, one must bear in mind the biases of those delivering the judgment. The media's handling of Hope Solo and her domestic assault charges, as well as women's sports in general, reveals a pronounced sexism that cannot be ignored any more than the violence.



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  • David on October 12, 2014 at 12:05 AM
    "The angry editorials were written with the assumption that Solo is guilty," Inaccurate. They were written wanting to know why a double standard exists in sports at large. In some ways, Solo is the equivalent to LeBron James and Payton Manning of her sport. She is in fact the biggest name in US Women's Soccer. As the NFL has been directly addressing the issue of DV among its players so too should US Soccer directly address the issue, and it has not. That's what the editorials were about. "when the only evidence they have to support that claim is slight injuries to the accusing parties and the accusers' word. " Now this part is a lie. There is also a 911 call to Kirkland Police, and on the call the person names a specific individual as to whom is "beating people up, we need help." 911 calls are also admitted as evidence into court of law. This other part, that we "only have the accusers word" is somewhat comical. Yes, and we "only" have the video of Ray Rice knocking out his fiancee/wife as to why we have formed opinions on NFL's DV problem which highlighted other DV problems in the NFL at large. Actually, the most consistent sports journalists on this issue has been Christine Brennan. She first wrote about the issue in mid August as US Soccer decided to celebrate Solo's career shutout record (which of course wasn't achieved til next month when they gave her the capt.'s armband). Brennan, a well respected sports journalist for several decades, simply wanted to know why an important role model for countless young girls as well as being a symbol of women's sports and the positive impact it has on US society at large wasn't being disciplined accordingly as other athletes. This would also include US Olympian Michael Phelps who was disciplined for having a photo taken of him smoking marijuana. Brennan stated then well before anyone else that Solo should be benched; as one of US Soccers most important members she shouldn't be representing US on the global stage. See, the charges in and of themselves should be more than sufficient to bench and suspend any player, particularly one who plays in the Olympics or World Cup. "All accounts indicated that both sides were verbally and physically abusive." Not exactly accurate whatsoever. All accounts do conclude that Solo was the main instigator. Remember, she is charged with striking a 17yr old minor/child and in the eyes of the law, that is a most serious charge. Who is the adult and who is the child? Solo, the aunt is charged with striking her nephew, a minor. Why is that acceptable for her to continue to play for USWNT? It isn't. Also, there isn't anyone who has publicly stated that Solo's sister was verbally abusive whatsoever. Per the police report, she was attempting to stop her from beating up her son. It does make one wonder if you did actually in fact take the time to carefully read the police account of the case. Once the trial begins in November, it isn't good enough for Solo's defense to amount to "It's all a lie. Everyone is lying but me and I'm the victim in this matter." "This is not a clear-cut case," Neither was Ray Rice, by the way, which is why he wasn't convicted, if we are to take that tact. Actually a more apt description: "If it walks like a duck, flies, quacks, and waddles like a duck....it's a duck." "it has not yet been heard in court" And neither has several of the NFL players cases and yet most of them have been suspended. I don't hear you directly calling for "justice" and for their suspensions to be revoked so that the NFL players can return to playing. "and journalists are not endowed with the power to make calls on either criminal cases or professional companies' handling of said cases without evidence to support their judgment." Aside from common sense and those established facts of the case that have been made public. It's also called their First Amendment Rights. I'm sure you're not vs journalists exercising their 1st Amendment rights of the press? The other part, is a lie. There IS evidence. FACT: A 911 call. If you haven't actually heard the call, go back and do so. FACT: Pictures taken by the police of the two victims (as they weren't charged that means that are the victims in this case) with visible PHYSICAL injuries to their faces, arms, etc. FACT: Solo came over to her sisters house for no apparent reason and she was close to being intoxicated. Why was she there? She wasn't invited. FACT: Per the official police report, which is the state's basis for the case and will be entered into evidence, the sister called back the police the following day to officially have her injuries categorized on the record. her doctor said there was a chance her cheekbone was fractured. Doesn't sound like a slight injury/boo boo. FACT: When asked by the police, Solo refused to show them any injuries she may have received from her relatives. She also, when asked, refused to present her side of the events of what occurred during the incident. You see, it tends not to help her defense very much at all if she didn't cooperate with the authorities to get her side of the story out when she had the chance to do so. FACT: The official police report has also catalogued the rest of what Solo's sister told them regarding her sister over the last few months and how she treated her. FACT: At Solo's first hearing in June, the city of Kirkland requested a no contact order. Local Seattle area media reported the reason: The sister requested it because she feared for her physical safety. Wonder why? Why would she fear for her physical safety vs her own sister? Do back and actually take the time to read the stated and public facts of the case because it doesn't appear that you have done so in any meaningful way. If Solo's two relatives agree to testify vs her, then it will not end well for her. A little common sense in this case will help anyone with doubts as to which side was the aggressor and instigator of DV. Who came over to whose house? Uninvited and nearly intoxicated. Who started the verbal argument? Who threw the first punch? Who then attacked her own sister for no apparent reason? The 911 call to police has a specific name identified as to WHO is the instigator (and 911 calls tend to be entered into court of law as evidence). Common sense and again, if it looks like a duck....it tends not to be a fish.
  • Pretty much agree on October 12, 2014 at 12:41 AM
    What you wrote is well though out. I disagree on some points, though.

    First, I'm having trouble seeing exactly who you are identifying as sexist. If you are saying that many Americans still believe in male superiority, then you're not breaking any news.

    Is there sexism in the justice system? Sure, as there is racism. But the fundamental issue here, which you raise, is with the power of big enterprises, like the NFL, to influence the judicial system. In this case, it's not as much about Rice being male as it is about the NFL having legal influence, which it shouldn't.

    And I disagree with your last argument. At the end of the day, sports are entertainment, and it's unfair to tell people what to watch. I support equality among the sexes, but I have no desire to watch women's soccer, beyond maybe the knockout stages of the World Cup.

    I'd love to hear your thoughts.
  • Suck3rs (View Email) on October 12, 2014 at 1:53 PM
    Just another opinion about how women should get equal treatment, but really mean equal treatment when it is positive. Rice wife attacked him more than once physically and verbally. The difference is that Rice has much more strength than Solo. Also, your article implies that he stood over her beating her he hit her hard only one time. It is never equal rights, people like you just look for special treatment.

    As far as their conditions? I am pretty sure many of the men's leagues had not so great conditions starting out.
  • alan on October 12, 2014 at 4:42 PM
    Janey rice started the fight, he didn't beat her unconscious he hit her once. I like how the writer says the guy solo beat on fought back so it's not as bad, ray rice was in the same situation, he fought back. If people beat on you that's their fault, fight back u learn that in kindergarten.
  • ' on October 12, 2014 at 9:19 PM
    If you'd like to inject some facts into the article, Rice's girlfriend did go after him before he hit her. Also, he was suspended for his crime, likely losing any chance of ever playing football again, the only profession he has ever known. The legal system acted and found it best to put him in a diversionary program- though I personally think it should have been harsher, if the presiding judge did act to the letter of the law, there's not much to complain about there.
    For a sport whose target audience is young girls, it is disturbing that you clearly consider Rice, who was punished by the NFL as well as the legal system, worse than Solo, who has so far gone unpunished. Could it be possible that the "criminal to go unpunished" was Solo? Sure sounds like it.
    I don't like, respect, or support Rice, and I think the way he treated his now-wife is absolutely despicable. But you need to focus your efforts on a cause more noble than defending Solo at the expense of Rice.
    (Also, treating women's soccer like football won't happen - the fact is that more people care about football, not that the system is broken to favor mens' sports.)
  • Dale Turnbull (View Email) on October 13, 2014 at 11:27 AM
    This is the issue, Zoe. You've immediately decided that these two cases are unequal, when in reality that couldn't be further from the truth. The logical fallacies in your article are astounding. "You want Hope Solo to be treated like NFL players? Treat women's soccer like football. Get rid of the low pay" How? This is capitalism. If millions don't want to watch women's soccer, they won't. Why give out massive TV deals to things no one watches? "If female and male players are to be punished equally, they must also be celebrated equally." False. Society demands that those who break laws get their day in court and receive punishment. Society decides who they heap praise on. There is a difference. "Solo, on the other hand, belongs to a traditionally ignored sport whose targeted audience is little girls." False. Males make up the majority of women's soccer fans. Sexis assumption based upon opinion not fact. "Rice beat his now-wife unconscious. She was helpless to fight back. Solo clashed with her nephew, who could and did fight back." Do you have any idea how the legal system operates? Janay Palmer fought with Rice prior to the punch in the elevator. By her own admission she assaulted Rice. She could easily have received an assault charge. The court opted to ignore those charges. "Rice, on the other hand, was arrested and released, with all criminal charges eventually dropped." Better legal counsel is not sexism. "U.S. Soccer, on the other hand, did not try to hide the fact that one of its top players was undergoing legal issues. Rather, they have stated clearly that Solo will continue to play until the issues are resolved." So the NFL suspends Ray Rice and is wrong, while the USWNT let's Hope Solo play and is right? OK. The court system dropped the charges for Rice, Solo plead not guilty. The two cases are not the same, regardless of emotional uproar. You don't condone Hope Solo, but you immediately attribute it to drunkenness later in the article. Rice and Palmer? Drunk. Neither is remotely an excuse. Before telling society to intangible "change" you should reevaluate your own biases.
  • uh on October 13, 2014 at 12:43 PM
    where is the chill
  • ben (View Email) on October 14, 2014 at 8:06 AM
    Is this sexist or racial?
    • the truth on October 30, 2014 at 2:41 PM
      rasist
  • Scott (View Email) on October 14, 2014 at 1:42 PM
    Treat women equa . Women and men alike should be calling for her removal from team
  • ... on October 14, 2014 at 10:57 PM
    Maybe the reason why Women's sports aren't covered as much as men's sports is that they are just simply less exciting and less entertaining. Nobody is saying that you can not like professional women's soccer, but you cannot compare it in popularity to sports that dwarf it, like the NFL. Calling that as a reason for your claim is beyond ignorant. You completely missed the target on this piece. It just seems like internal biases, not truth are the factors guiding this editorial.
  • microwavesareawesome on October 15, 2014 at 6:38 PM
    Sorry, but how can you find a way to link her being charged with domestic violence to the coverage of women's sports? It's quite a stretch. And if she committed the crime, there should be no pity for her. Alcohol is not an excuse.
  • Klent on October 17, 2014 at 7:45 AM
    "The most outrageous claim is that Solo's actions are somehow equal to those of Ray Rice." Your statement begs two questions: Are we talking about punishing and action or a gender? Are we talking about punishing a group or an individual? No, there is not a domestic violence problem in women's soccer. Yes, there have been many stories of violence in male sports. Does this mean that the former should not be held accountable to the same degree as the latter? It is arguably true that many top rated news outlets reported on Solo's case in a rather partial manner, making it seem like violence is an equal problem for both genders when it is not exactly the case. However, I believe their main point was quiet clear and simple: Violence is not acceptable from anyone and at anytime. "You want Hope Solo to be treated like NFL players? Treat women's soccer like football." I read that as: "You want a woman to be treated as a man when she hurts a kid? Treat women equally." I believe that is not what you meant, but it is surely what it seems like to me. I think you fall there into the same momentum of expressing personal feelings like other reporters have done on Solo's case. That in my opinion, is the reason for misunderstanding because many simple messages that were to be carried out get drowned into politically charged paragraphs - often unintentionally I suppose. I think keeping it to the essential, like in this case to say no to violence in any circumstance, is enough. I support women's rights and equality, but since this problem is about someone injuring another person, let's keep it at that and deal with it in a universal manner. In my opinion, that is the best way to approach the issue from any side of the isle.
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