Keith Strudler: Losing Hope
One of the most important lessons in sports, really in life, is that’s there’s no such thing as fair. So let’s just accept that it’s not fair that Hope Solo is still playing for the US National team in this year’s World Cup. Solo, the team’s star goalie and a big reason they’ve been title contenders for the past several international championships, will be a cornerstone of the team’s aspirations in this current cup, which led off with an American win over Australia. With her in the net, it’s reasonable that the US might find themselves in the semis or better. Without her, who knows?
Of course, Hope Solo’s personal life is far less exemplary than her one on the field. In the past, she’s had verbal exchanges with players and coaches and been suspended for 30 days for riding in a car driven by her husband, who was intoxicated. And then there’s this. In the early hours of June 21st last year, Solo was arrested for a domestic violence charge at her sister’s house, where it was alleged she assaulted her sister and nephew, who by the was 17-years-old, 6 foot 9, and some 280 pounds. Which makes for a challenging visual to the assumptions of domestic abuse. The charges were dismissed for procedural errors, but now an appeal will likely bring the case back to court. To make matters worse, Solo has also been accused of verbally assaulting the officers processing the arrest that evening, everything from homophobic slurs to crass socioeconomic insults. If proven true, it paints Solo not only as a violent criminal, but also a mean spirited lowlife, hardly someone worthy of our national aspirations as a star member of the US squad.
As the details of the evening have become more public in recent days, or at least the alleged details, public sentiment has increasingly turned against Solo, even if it still lies behind the US Team in general. More specifically, it’s been insinuated, again and again, that if this were a man in question, he’d certainly have been suspended for his actions, for beating a 17-year-old, no matter how large he is, and punching his mother, who also happens to be your sister, all under a drunken haze that ends you in jail. Even Roger Goodell would suspend that, right? According to critics, led by ESPN’s Keith Olbermann, Solo shouldn’t be allowed to represent the US and largely promote a culture of domestic violence. Just like Ray Rice shouldn’t have been allowed to play in the NFL for knocking his wife out in an elevator. They are the same, right? Someone intimidating and physically abusing a relation.
Of course, the devil is in the details. We all know the simple reading of why Solo isn’t suspended, and it’s because she’s female, which is not the typical profile in this all-too-common crime. Domestic abuse is typically understood as man beating woman. Which, by the way, is largely what the statistics bear out. Women are far more likely the victim, with much graver consequences. And men are much more likely the aggressor. That reality has created an increased sensitivity amongst anyone in sports administration, from league commissioners to team owners. That’s an ethos that didn’t exist 20 or 30 years ago, when rumors flew about which professional athlete beat his wife, and no one really did anything about it. Or someone would simply offer a public apology, and it all went away. In that regard, we’ve grown, understanding why the overly masculine world of sport can’t be a space that normalizes some of our society’s worst masculine criminal behaviors.
But that said, does this mean that Hope Solo, or perhaps female athletes in general, should get an easier sentence because it’s just not as prevalent? The simple answer is no. Hope Solo should be suspended. But it’s more complex than that.
In suspending men who beat women, sports is trying to respond to the larger social problem of masculine hegemony, something men’s sports are often accused of promoting. Women’s sports don’t have that problem. In fact, their mere existence is a battle against that social ill, a front backed by Title IX and the trailblazers who opened doors to a once forbidden space. So suspending Hope Solo, while important, doesn’t necessarily have the same social implication as, say, suspending baseball’s Milton Bradley. It’s a reminder that spectator sport doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it certain doesn’t come without context. And of course, like life, it’s not always fair.
Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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