Is Hope Solo the Victim of a Media Witch Hunt?

On the eve of the USA’s opener against Australia at the Women’s World Cup in Canada last Monday, ESPN published a damning report that took a deeper look into USA goalkeeper Hope Solo’s domestic violence case. Previously, the case had presumably been put to bed when a judge threw it out “procedural grounds,” citing the failure of the complaining witnesses --Solo’s half-sister Teresa Obert and her son -- to cooperate with attempts by the defense to interview them.

But as the ESPN report noted, the case had been reopened after the prosecution filed an appeal, which will be heard in September. It also detailed the points of view of both Obert and her son, which had never been published, in addition to those of the policemen who eventually arrested Solo on charges of domestic violence.

As we’ve noted before, the claims made by Obert and her son against USA No. 1 are indeed serious, but perhaps the most damning revelation to come out of the ESPN report is the fact that the U.S. Soccer Federation did not conduct a complete investigation of the matter -- i.e. it did not interview either of the alleged victims or the police officers who filed the reports and arrested Solo -- let alone suspend the player for her part in the incident.

Last Thursday, Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, sent a letter to U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati admonishing the organization for its failure to properly investigate the matter or suspend Solo from the team until the facts have been aired in open court and a verdict has been reached.

Last Friday, Gulati and the U.S. Soccer responded to Blumenthal’s letter in what a New York Times report says is “a detailed defense of its actions,” although the report does not publish the letter in its entirety.

Apparently, on the advice of its legal counsel, the USSF decided to let the criminal charges play out, instead of questioning the accusers and the police officers, because, having read the victims’ reports, the organization believed that their statements were inconsistent, and that the entire affair added up to a “he said, she said situation.” Gulati added that the USSF only received a partial and redacted police report, and that a supplemental report obtained by ESPN was not given to the federation and has now been sealed by the presiding judge. 

Now, in some American sports, notably college sports, it is common practice for a presiding organization to assume that athletes with charges against them are guilty before being proved innocent, and to suspend them from their sport accordingly. However, often times, incidents like these involve overwhelming evidence supporting the accuser, such as the video evidence in NFL player Ray Rice’s domestic violence case. Gulati pointed out that no such evidence exists in Solo’s case; in fact, according to the ESPN report, the accusers admitted to disposing of some of the evidence.

Moreover, Gulati pointed to the appeals process afforded to athletes in Olympic-related sports as well as the collective bargaining agreement of the U.S. women’s team, which said that Solo could not be suspended without first being able to call witnesses and go through a binding arbitration process.

However, interestingly, Gulati said that the version of the report the USSF received did not mention Solo’s abusive conduct that was alleged in the ESPN report toward the police officers after her arrest, adding that the federation was now investigating that incident.

Meanwhile, Solo continues to turn in stellar performances in the USA goal as the Women’s World Cup marches on. She may yet face further punishment for her actions on the night of June 21, 2014, but under the Stevens Act she cannot be ruled out of the tournament so for the media to keep harping on about the case is somewhat hollow, at least right now.

In an interview with USA Today, Solo’s husband, the former NFL tight-end Jerramy Stevens, describes the media’s decision to focus on the case during the World Cup “unpatriotic,” adding: “It’s a witch hunt.”

It has to be said that publishing its report on the eve of the USA Women’s opener was, if nothing else, a ploy by ESPN to ensure maximum interest-level in its story. Obviously, there is nothing illegal about this -- nor is there anything illegal about Stevens’ calling it a media “witch hunt.” As it so often is, the truth is most likely somewhere in the middle.

But in Solo’s case, the question that will continue to cast a pall over her is: should she have been at some point suspended for what happened on June 21, 2014?

8 comments about "Is Hope Solo the Victim of a Media Witch Hunt? ".
  1. Allan Lindh, June 15, 2015 at 9:23 p.m.

    Am I the only one who read at some point that the "kid" who Hope Solo had an argument with is 18, weighs over 300 lbs, and was angry because she questioned he was an athlete? Since when does a 300 lb teenager need police protection against a woman who weighs not that much more and half his weight? I'm sorry this is PC taken to an absurd degree. This was a family argument that got out of hand, and no one was injured. If they had prosecuted cases like this in the town I grew up in, half the town would have been in the slammer. Isn't this the sort of case that sane people have a good laugh about and move on?

  2. Ed Shaw, June 15, 2015 at 9:36 p.m.

    ESPN ought to be ashamed of itself for partial, inaccurate reporting by a biased failure from MSNBC. I thought we could expect more from them. Of course, Sen. Blumenthal ran with the story since he has nothing better to do - he who lied about his military service. Whatever happened to the idea that you are innocent until proven guilty...for people like him to suggest Hope should be suspended at this stage is ridiculous and simply a headline grab. Before he criticized USSF, did he even try to ask them what they had done to investigate the matter. As the USSF statement makes clear, he did not.

  3. Kenneth Barr, June 15, 2015 at 10:13 p.m.

    It is not the ESPN report or Keith Olbermann, who commented but had no responsibility for the "Outside the Lines" story who are at fault. It is the prosecutors office in Washington who failed to have its ducks in order when they presented the case, forcing the court to dismiss. Now they want to reinstate but have little chance of that happening. I respectfully disagree with Mr. Olbermann but he has been consistent on this issue. We all need to learn from the the sorry case of the State of California v Orenthal James Simpson, where we all thought we knew what happened only for a jury to remind us that a criminal case must be proven in a court of law, not in the fictitious court of public opinion. As of this moment, there is no case for Hope Solo to answer. Had US Soccer suspended her for the World Cup, they would have been guilty of prior restraint and denial of due process. The precedent for that is, ironically, the State of Washington v Shawn Eckhardt, Jeff Gillooly, Tonya Harding and Shane Stant. In that case, the US Ice Skating Federation was forced to allow Harding to skate at the Olympics due to the inability of authorities to file charges against her for any involvement in injuring Nancy Kerrigan at the US Trials. Charges were filed upon her return.

  4. Santiago 1314, June 16, 2015 at 9:26 a.m.

    @ Kenneth...Spot On!!!

  5. Chance Hall, June 16, 2015 at 10:57 a.m.

    Finally some common sense comments on the shameful treatment of not just Hope Solo, but the US Women's team. She and the team have been the victims of a media witch hunt in the attempt to gain publicity for them at any cost. Cheers to Kenneth, who lends some insight into law that pertains to these issues. However, the most shameful out of all this is the deliberate timing of this witch hunt, right before the beginning of the US Women's game in the World Cup. These individuals and the media have done everything they can to distract and impair the play of the US Women. OK US Women, go ahead and show the world what a good team of soccer players you are. Go kick some WWC butt!!! :)

  6. Mike Jacome, June 17, 2015 at 10:58 a.m.

    To answer your question...ABSOLUTELY. Just the comparison to Rice is ludicrus and a true shame.

  7. Margaret Manning, June 24, 2015 at 8:02 p.m.

    Witch hunt captures the misogynist flavor of much of this ill-timed unfair attack.

    Also, the two family members declined to appear to make their claims in depositions under oath; that's why the case was dismissed.

  8. Margaret Manning, June 24, 2015 at 8:05 p.m.

    Letting the criminal charges play out was USSF's only choice. The Senator misapprehends our Constitution. USSF interviewing witnesses during a criminal trial? That would be insane.

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