Soccer star Hope Solo is alleged to have assaulted her sister and 17-year old nephew in June of this year. Unlike Ray Rice, Solo is still plying her trade as a goalkeeper for the national team. This led several people to claim that Solo is the beneficiary of a double standard. In The New York Times Juliet Macur makes the argument:
One can argue the differences between an N.F.L. player punching his soon-to-be wife and a soccer star brawling with her family, but it is indisputable that both qualify as domestic violence. The glaring contrast in Solo’s case is that while several football players recently accused of assaults have been removed from the field, she has been held up for praise by the national team.
On Thursday she was even given the honor of wearing the captain’s armband in celebration of her setting the team’s career record for shutouts in its previous game. The question is why.
Celebrating Solo’s achievement right now is like allowing running back Adrian Peterson, who has been accused of child abuse, to continue to play for the Minnesota Vikings — and then awarding him the game ball for his next 100-yard game.
This analysis strikes me as incorrect, as it does for Slate's Amanda Hess. It also exists outside the bounds of human history. Ray Rice did not so much "brawl with his family" as he pummeled his fiancé into unconsciousness. Contrary to the flimsy notion that Real Men don't hit women, Real Men have been pummeling women for much of human history.
It is now becoming fashionable to ignore human history and dump all manner of insupportable violence committed by athletes into the same bucket. The label on that bucket reads "Something Bad, Which We Should Punish." It is true that what Ray Rice did was violent and wrong. It is also true that what Adrian Peterson did was violent and wrong. And it also true that what Hope Solo is alleged to have done is violent and wrong. But they are not the same specimen of violent and wrong.
In our society we recognize different kinds of violence. We understand, for instance, that lynching enjoys a particular place in American history. We generally grant that Emmett Till was not merely murdered, but that he was murdered in a fashion that places his death in a specifically heinous tradition in our history. And thus we understand that what happened to Till, or what James Byrd, or what happened to Sam Hose is not the same thing as what happened to Tupac Shakur or Sam Cooke. This does not mean that what happened to Shakur or Cooke was good. It means that it wasn't a lynching.
In the history of humanity, spouse-beating is a particularly odious tradition—one often employed by men looking to exert power over women. Just as lynching in America is not a phenomenon wholly confined to black people, spouse-beatings are not wholly confined to women. But in our actual history, women have largely been on the receiving end of spouse-beating. We have generally recognized this in our saner moments. There is a reason why we call it the "Violence Against Women Act" and not the "Brawling With Families Act." That is because we recognize that violence against women is an insidious, and sometimes lethal, tradition that deserves a special place in our customs and laws.
This is the tradition with which Ray Rice will be permanently affiliated. Hope Solo is affiliated with a different tradition—misdemeanor assault. If she is guilty she should be punished. And perhaps we do need to have a conversation about punishing athletes for assaulting people. But we don't need Ray Rice to make that case. And we should not pretend that if Ray Rice were accused of assaulting his younger brother and his 17-year old nephew, we would be having this conversation.
Hope Solo only becomes Ray Rice through the annihilation of inconvenient history—through some forgery that implies that there is no tradition of men controlling women through violence. We are familiar with other such forgeries. It is how a conversation about the racism of Richie Incognito becomes a conversation about banning black people from using the word "nigger." Or how the destruction of Mike Brown's body becomes a debate about "black-on-black crime." Or how Ray Rice knocking his wife unconscious morphs into, "Yes, but women do it too." Indeed they do—but neither with the consistency, nor urgency, nor lethality of men.