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?