Hope Solo: Does domestic abuse have a double standard?

Hope Solo Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Hope Solo suited up to play on 18 September in Mexico

The dust is settling around National Football League (NFL) players Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy after each man was arrested for separate cases of domestic abuse. Now another prominent athlete is making headlines for similar reasons - female football star Hope Solo.

In June, the US national women's team's star goalkeeper was arrested and charged with two counts of domestic abuse in connection with an assault on her sister and 17-year-old nephew.

She has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial in November.

Rice is suspended from the NFL indefinitely and Peterson and Hardy have been benched. But Solo continues to play for two teams, including the US national side.

Nike has publicly ended ties with Rice and Peterson, but nearly three months after Solo's arrest, the company has not said a word about its sponsorship deal with her.

This summer, the US Soccer Federation issued this gentle statement:

"We are aware that Hope is handling a personal situation at the moment," US Soccer spokesman Neil Bluethe told USA Today.

"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 recognise that in the proper way."

Since then, Solo broke the record to which Mr Bluethe referred - the women's national team record for shutouts.

Some commentators say she should have been sent off the field months ago.

"Solving the problem in the NFL while ignoring the issue elsewhere would accomplish little as a whole," writes John Smallwood for the Philadelphia Daily News. "If we are going to address domestic abuse, let's address it, regardless of the status of the accused perpetrator."

Thousands of young girls flock to stadiums to watch Solo play, he notes.

"How is it OK to showcase Solo to those girl fans - some of whom unfortunately will become victims of the same domestic abuse she is accused of?" he asks.

ESPN's Kate Fagan came out in favour of a strong punishment for Solo. "The issue is about anger and power, about controlling relationships with violence, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator," she wrote. "The US women's national team is sending the wrong message by allowing Solo to continue playing."

But as if to demonstrate the complicated nature of this case, Fagan felt compelled to follow up days later. While she stands firm in her desire to see Solo benched, she says she was uncomfortable with how many people were using Solo's actions as a way to neutralise the discussion of domestic violence within the NFL.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption NFL running back Adrian Peterson has been banned from team activities until his legal issues are resolved

"See?" she wrote, summarising the arguments that troubled her. "Women commit domestic violence, too, so let's just call it even and get back to watching some football!"

That approach, she writes, is a mistake.

"The reason the 'NFL and domestic violence' story is so important is because it's holding up a mirror to the rest of society," she writes. "We can get somewhere better by examining the NFL's failures. Every minute we spend talking about Hope Solo is a minute spent walking down a dead end."

On MSNBC's Morning Joe chat show, BBC World News America presenter Katty Kay emphasised that Solo's case, while serious, was not representative of the norm.

"Let's not try and use that as an example to suggest that women are as guilty of domestic violence against their partners, because it is overwhelmingly men who beat their wives," she said.

Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic agrees, citing the main US anti-domestic violence law.

"There is a reason why we call it the 'Violence Against Women Act' and not the 'Brawling With Families Act'," he writes.

For Slate's Amanda Hess, the differences between the NFL and the US Soccer Federation make them difficult to compare.

"Isn't it more likely that the lack of public pressure in Solo's case simply represents the relative lack of attention that women's soccer receives as compared with pro football?"

And unlike the NFL, she writes, US Soccer is not burdened with "a systematic, decades-long history of ignoring the fact that certain players abuse their partners."

Solo herself posted on Facebook and Twitter saying, "Once all the facts come to light and the legal process is concluded, I am confident that I will be fully exonerated."

Officials are waiting to see what the court decides.

"Abuse in all forms is unacceptable," US Olympic Committee chief officer Scott Blackmun said in a recent email to USA Today.

"The allegations involving Ms Solo are disturbing and are inconsistent with our expectations of Olympians. We have had discussions with US Soccer and fully expect them to take action if it is determined that the allegations are true."

While they wait, fans are forming their own opinions - and women's football, never as popular in the US as the NFL, is getting attention for all the wrong reasons.

Written by Kierran Petersen