WINNIPEG, Manitoba – U.S. Soccer took an important and laudable step on Friday, offering more transparency into its review of Hope Solo's domestic violence incident. What was also transparent, though, was a pattern that has shown in other responses to domestic violence: a too-quick belief in the athlete, and a much more dismissive view of those accusing that athlete.
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati wrote an open letter to U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who previously criticized the organization for its lack of clarity and accountability on how it investigated Solo's arrest and ensuing legal case last year. Blumenthal suggested that Gulati's relative silence on the matter conveyed a message that soccer was more important than battling domestic violence.
Gulati answered by saying his organization did indeed investigate, requesting and receiving a heavily redacted police report. U.S. Soccer interviewed Solo as well and reported that the star goalkeeper "quite vehemently" insisted she acted in self-defense, yet it decided that reaching out to the alleged victims in the case, Solo's sister-in-law and nephew, would devolve into a "he said, she said" impasse. The alleged victims changed their accounts and failed to show up for court interviews, terminating the legal process. So there was no effort to talk to all involved. Only Solo's side of the story was fully sought.
This has become a common mistake. Of course a domestic violence incident is going to be "he said, she said." There are multiple people involved, each with his or her own perspective of what happened. Because family dynamics are delicate and always changing, there is incentive for all involved to omit details, spin facts, or simply say nothing. That's part of what makes domestic violence so difficult to prosecute. A victim will likely have to deal with the fallout for the rest of his or her life, as it's not some stranger on the other side of the courtroom. It's a family member, or several, forced to take sides and weigh every admission against the fear of retribution and a broken relationship.
There are likely some days when a victim wants to be fully honest, and some days when he or she wants the whole thing to go away. So when stories are changed, it's not always a sign of lying; it may be a sign of escalating fear.
And when one of those involved in a domestic violence case is famous, as Solo is, there's added fear on both sides. The World Cup is Solo's moment of glory – something she has worked her entire life to achieve. The refusal of accusers to show up for a court hearing may mean the whole thing is fabricated and untrue, but there's just as good a chance the fear of undercutting a famous family member in a public setting became overwhelming to an alleged victim.
Meanwhile, there is incentive for Solo to "quite vehemently" deny doing anything wrong. Almost anyone would be vehement when confronted with ugly details on past behavior that happened in the home, especially when those details can ruin an athlete's livelihood and international reputation. That vehemence doesn't mean she's telling the full truth, nor does it mean she's lying. It means she has sound reason to fight humiliation by speaking up, just as her family members have sound reason to avoid future fallout by staying silent.
This doesn't conclude Solo is a villain or even a perpetrator. It just means U.S. Soccer has to make an important distinction: You can believe in Solo as a person and a player and still reserve judgment in a troubling situation that involved family and fighting and alcohol.
Instead, U.S. Soccer did what many NFL teams have done in domestic violence situations – cling to a player's behavior in a professional setting as a way of believing that behavior will always carry over to a personal setting. Ray Rice? How could he do something so terrible, considering all he's done in the community of Baltimore? Greg Hardy? Look at how much he loves football and wants to be a part of a winning team. Adrian Peterson? He's one of the most beloved players in the NFL and one of the most genuine speakers in media interviews. These accounts don't match our image or our imagination. But that's a large part of why domestic violence is so different than other forms of violence. Private behavior and public demeanor are often contradictory.
Hope Solo is soft-spoken, smart and incredibly dedicated to her craft and her sport. She cares very much about the little girls who write her letters and wear her jersey. She is not a monster, not even close. But that doesn't mean she is incapable of doing something wrong in a heated moment and then trying to convince others and herself that it wasn't as bad or as true as other people say. U.S. Soccer has to know this.
U.S. Soccer also has to know that Solo's family members may have skipped their court date, may have an axe to grind with Solo, may have unique personal circumstances affecting "medical and mental status" (which Gulati references in his letter to Blumenthal) at the time of the incident. That does not mean they are to be completely discredited or dismissed in their versions of what happened that night.
So the recourse for U.S. Soccer and the NFL and every sports organization is to seek out each individual truth as efficiently and fully as possible, then weigh it all together. Those truths may not be forthcoming, but they should be sought and respected. Then and only then can the best possible decision be made. If it ends up truly being "he said, she said," at least a sports organization can tell the public that it did it's best to find out what "he" actually said and what "she" actually said.
U.S. Soccer pledged in its letter on Friday that it considers domestic and family violence "a very serious matter." That promise cannot be kept without taking every witness account seriously.