U.S. Soccer should start answering tough questions about Hope Solo

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U.S. Soccer should start answering tough questions about Hope Solo
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WINNIPEG, Manitoba – The bubble U.S. Soccer is putting around Hope Solo isn't working to calm anyone's concerns about the star goalkeeper.

The latest lament comes from no less than a U.S. Senator, who wrote a letter to U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati urging him to "conduct a thorough investigation" into Solo's domestic violence incident of last year and offer a detailed explanation of why Solo is on the field. She is expected to be the starting goalkeeper when the USA plays Sweden in its second group game at the Women's World Cup on Friday.

[FC Yahoo: U.S. Senator calls for U.S. Soccer to conduct Hope Solo investigation]

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut penned a lengthy complaint about the near-silence the organization has given on Solo, especially in the wake of ESPN's "Outside the Lines" report on Sunday. Blumenthal wrote that if the report is accurate "U.S. Soccer's approach to domestic violence and family violence is at best superficial and at worst dangerously neglectful and self-serving."

This situation is well beyond Solo now. U.S. Soccer has made this a referendum about its own ability to represent the values of the nation. "As boys and girls tune into Friday's game, watching the women on TV as role models," Blumenthal wrote, "what is the message of starting Hope Solo at goal?"

[Women's World Cup: Latest news | Scores and Schedule | Standings | Teams]

U.S. Soccer is not only avoiding difficult questions, it is also avoiding an account of all its actions. Even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has, to some extent, owned up to his failures on the Ray Rice case, yet Gulati has not even decried Solo's poor decisions.

Last September, three months after Solo's domestic violence charges (which were later dismissed by a judge on procedural grounds), Gulati released this vague statement on the matter:

"U.S. Soccer takes the issue of domestic violence very seriously. From the beginning, we considered the information available and have taken a deliberate and thoughtful approach regarding Hope Solo's status with the national team. Based on that information, U.S. Soccer stands by our decision to allow her to participate with the team as the legal process unfolds. If new information becomes available we will carefully consider it."

A lot of this would be solved if Gulati and Solo held a press conference and claimed some accountability. It's clear from Monday's dominant performance in a 3-1 tournament-opening win over Australia that Solo is not distracted by the national discussion of her past, so a short appearance – even without reporters' questions – probably won't ruin the U.S.'s chances for a trophy. And claiming that Solo has a match to focus on isn't credible as it's basically an admission that a single game is more important than a discussion of domestic violence.

For Gulati, there is little excuse. The silence, the lack of punishment and then the decision to allow head coach Jill Ellis to discuss (or not discuss) the situation here, combines to make the top official of American soccer look like he doesn't prioritize this issue.

"In the wake of this violent incident, U.S. Soccer offered no comment publicly for three months," Blumenthal wrote. "It finally issued a statement that was purportedly the result of a 'deliberate and thoughtful approach' to consider the incident and determine Hope Solo's status with the team, but it neglected to include an effort to contact the alleged victims."

The more U.S. Soccer tries to shift focus to the field, the less it accomplishes that. This is the Super Bowl of women's soccer, and decrying this as "old news" doesn't work because the entire country is watching now. Countless Americans are debating whether to root for Solo or not, and her protectors are effectively convincing a lot of people to remain skeptical of her.

It doesn't have to be this way. A better explanation of what Gulati has done on this topic – and a better explanation of what Solo has done to work on her problems – would go a long way toward moving on, especially the way U.S. Soccer clearly wants. Instead, there is opacity where there should be transparency.

The NFL has come under a lot of scrutiny for its efforts to "protect the shield," but U.S. Soccer's shield stands for a lot more than just a sport. That shield shouldn't only be used to defend a player.