Janay Palmer Rice

Enough with trial by court of public opinion


Enough already with trial by court of public opinion. All around. We have courts — real courts, of law — to dispense justice. That’s what they’re for. You can like Hope Solo, or not. But her case is not like that involving Ray Rice. The notion that the two matters are the same, or ought to be treated the same, or that the U.S. Olympic Committee ought to do something in the Solo case, and do it now, because of some notion of equality or of leveling the playing field in sports thoroughly and completely misses the point.

It also fundamentally ignores reality.

The USOC -- which convenes this week in Chicago for its annual assembly -- can’t just whomp around like an 800-pound gorilla. There are laws that define what it can, and can’t, do.

Goalie Hope Solo before last week's US-Mexico match // photo Getty Images

Which is exactly the point that seems to be lost in all the shouting over the past couple days and weeks amid the Rice matter and, more recently, as it has dawned anew on columnists — including some of the leading voices in the United States — as well as on the Twitter mob that Solo is herself facing domestic violence charges.

It’s simple.

The United States is a nation rooted, fundamentally, in the law. We can agree, or disagree, about whether the law is applied appropriately in a particular case or not — but, big picture, that is the essence of the thing.

To continue, the law is not a one-size-fits-all. In each case, the idea is that the law is applied to specific facts. And, in each case, the accused — this is crucial — is afforded due process.

Rice, in a February altercation, assaulted his wife-to-be, Janay, at the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The next month, a grand jury indicted him on felony charges of aggravated assault. At the risk of being obvious, a felony is punishable by a year or more in custody — which means state prison. We now know, thanks to TMZ, that Rice punched his fiancee in a casino elevator, knocking her unconscious.

In May, prosecutors agreed to allow Rice to enter into a pretrial diversion program, which will allow him to avoid prosecution, assuming he successfully completes the program. Typically, it takes about a year.

Solo, meanwhile, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of misdemeanor domestic violence stemming from a June incident at Solo’s sister’s home in Kirkland, Washington.

Just to pause for a second.

A misdemeanor involves a crime punishable by a year or less behind bars — that is, in county jail.

So, just to start, there’s a huge difference.


According to documents obtained by the Seattle Times, Solo charged her 17-year-old nephew, punched him in the face and tackled him. When the boy’s mother tried to intervene, Solo attacked her, too.

Police said in an affidavit that when they arrived on the scene, the boy’s T-shirt was torn and he had scratch marks on his arms and a bleeding cut on his ear.

The Seattle Times account says this, too:

"When the teen’s mother tried to intervene, Solo attacked her as well, the document says. The teen tried to pull Solo off his mother and then broke a wooden broom over her head, the document says."

The "her" in that sentence is Hope Solo. So she got a broom broken over her head, at least according to that account. Solo's attorney says she is the victim in the case, according to the newspaper.

Now there may be all kinds of reasons for U.S. Soccer to assess Hope Solo’s conduct, in this instance and over the years. But to say that the federation ought to be spurred to action now because Ray Rice beat up his fiancee in an elevator?

Ladies and gentlemen, Hope Solo has pleaded not guilty. She is due the presumption of innocence.

Indeed, on Tuesday evening, on her Facebook page, Solo had this to say: "... while I understand that the public desires more information regarding the allegations against me, I continue to maintain my innocence against these charges. And, once all the facts come to light and the legal process is concluded, I am confident that I will be fully exonerated."

What if, at trial, it turns out there are extenuating circumstances? Unreliable witnesses? Flimsy evidence? What about the broom? When in all of it did that take place, and what might -- or might not -- a jury think about that?

The Seattle Times report says the boy alleges Solo had been drinking. It also says the 17-year-old "got an old gun that did not work" and pointed it at Solo to try to get her to stop. Police, according to the newspaper account, determined it was a broken BB gun.

What if a jury of her peers finds Solo not guilty of the charges against her? What then? If U.S. Soccer moves decisively now, and she is found not guilty -- should she be punished all these months for what would turn out to be no sound legal reason?

“Abuse in all forms is unacceptable,” the chief executive officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Scott Blackmun, wrote USA Today in an email earlier this week.

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

For sure.

But until then, the USOC is not the NFL, and U.S. Soccer is not the Baltimore Ravens. That’s not how the real world works.

The USOC is not in the position of dictating to a national governing body how to run its affairs. Indeed, the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act prevents that very thing.

Here’s the deal:

Outrage is one thing. Justice is another. Hope Solo is due her day in court. It’s coming in November. Until then, a little calm, please, and a lot more reasonableness all around. It’s good for everyone.


On the NFL, Ray Rice and leadership


When he was running the Salt Lake City Olympic Games, so this was obviously more than a dozen years ago, Mitt Romney had a saying that bore on the astute reflections of the ladies and gentlemen of the press. It traced to his Mormon forebears, who had come across the prairies in covered wagons. “The dogs may bark,” Romney would say when the newspapers would be filled with one story after another as the Games struggled to recover from the scandal linked to Salt Lake’s winning bid for the 2002 Games, “but the caravan moves on.”

The leadership of any high-profile sports enterprise can be said, in one way or another, to be an exercise in ongoing crisis management.

Now it is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s turn in the white-hot spotlight.

Ray Rice during a pre-season game in August // photo Getty Images

He and the league are suddenly wrestling with a rapid-fire succession of cases linked to domestic violence and allegations of child abuse. In concert, they underscore the NFL’s unique place in American culture even as they also frame significant questions going forward about issues such as due process that remain at the core of the American experience — issues that absolutely need to be addressed, quietly, with reason and certitude, amid all the shouting.

On Sept. 8, the Baltimore Ravens released running back Ray Rice and the league suspended him indefinitely after the website TMZ posted a video showing him punching his future wife, Janay, in an elevator.

On Wednesday, the Minnesota Vikings placed Adrian Peterson, another of the league’s standout running backs, who is facing child abuse charges in Texas, on the exempt-commissioner’s list. Peterson is alleged to have whipped his 4-year-old son with a “switch,” or a tree branch. That same day, the Carolina Panthers took the same action with defensive lineman Greg Hardy; he was found guilty of domestic violence in a case involving his girlfriend in July. Hardy is appealing.

Also Wednesday, Arizona Cardinals backup running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested on charges of aggravated assault against his wife and 17-month-old son and four other counts, all from incidents that took place in July. Police allege he head-butted her after she refused sex. The Cardinals immediately deactivated Dwyer, putting him on the reserve/non-football illness list; he is now ineligible to play for the team this season.

The Rice case has been, by far, the most prominent matter, because the elevator video is so provocative. It has served as a lighting rod for Goodell’s leadership under pressure — offering lessons, good and not so, for the league and for others, both in the United States and worldwide, confronting a major issue, and in real time.

The prime takeaway from the Salt Lake scandal, which erupted in late 1998, is that leaders and institutions need to be as transparent and accountable as possible.

In this regard, Goodell has assuredly made some missteps.

At the same time, he also has — despite the many critics, their voices amplified by social media — done some things right.

Starting from the obvious: domestic violence and child abuse are never acceptable.

Now, some of the the not-so-good:

— In July, Rice was given a two-game suspension under the NFL’s personal conduct policy following a Feb. 15 altercation with his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City, N.J., casino elevator. That was too lenient — particularly for a league seeking to attract female fans.

— Critically, Goodell did not go after the in-elevator tape diligently enough. As commissioner, for instance, could he have used more leverage with Rice’s defense attorney? Goodell and the Ravens say they never saw the video before Sept. 8.

— Shortly after the TMZ video emerged, Goodell sat down for a one-on-one interview with CBS News. He hasn’t been heard from since. He needs to make himself available for a news conference. I was there at the hotel in suburban Chicago the day Goodell was elected commissioner. He’s good at news conferences. Have the NFL PR office give everyone with a press pass in New York 60 — heck, make it 90 — minutes notice. That’s more than enough.

In that CBS interview, Goodell said the league is “particularly reliant” on law enforcement for evidence. Unsaid is that TMZ, which is at its core a celebrity-news website, gets its stuff wherever it gets it — and maybe it pays for it and maybe it doesn’t. This leads, however, to a fascinating — albeit fundamental — question:

Do we really want employers to buy evidence regarding activities their employees are involved in outside the workplace?

Or what about this:

Consider Dwyer’s sudden ineligibility. If you go about suspending everyone who is accused of a crime, what about due process? And this, too: millions of dollars are bet, some of it legally, on the NFL. If players are suddenly being forced out because of accusations of domestic violence — what happens if such accusations are made on false, flimsy or thin evidence? Or, worse — if an accuser is being paid off by a gambler?

These are the sorts of difficult, nuanced questions that demand experience — and relationships forged over time — to sift through.

Goodell, despite cries that he should step down or be fired, seems increasingly unlikely to go anywhere.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, right, on the field in Seattle before the first regular-season game of the year -- four days before TMZ posted the elevator video of Ray Rice and his then-fiance // photo Getty Images

Though Anheuser-Busch, a major NFL sponsor, earlier this week said it was “increasingly concerned” over reports of NFL player domestic violence, the chief executive of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, late Wednesday issued a statement calling some players’ behavior “repugnant” but describing Goodell as a “man of integrity.”

Such praise from the female CEO of the maker of Pepsi, Gatorade and Doritos — and the sponsor of last year’s Super Bowl halftime show — is notable.

Meanwhile, another major sponsor, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, issued a statement that said the NFL had reached out to the company several weeks ago and has “been working behind the scenes to develop and implement problems that will address the [domestic violence] problem at its root.”

These sponsors, and others, understand that in fact Goodell has shown leadership amid the storm.

— Goodell actually has levied punishment on Rice. After the video emerged, he suspended him indefinitely from the league — a suspension the NFL Players Association is now challenging, asserting Rice’s due process rights. Query: has anyone else punished Rice? The criminal justice system? In May, Rice was accepted into a pretrial diversion program, which meant he would avoid prosecution, assuming he successfully completes the program (it usually takes about a year).

— The big thing: after initially assessing the two-game penalty, Goodell began meeting with domestic violence experts and advocates. He then conceded he’d made a mistake and issued not just a personal but an organizational apology, acknowledging he “didn’t get it right.”

Under a new NFL policy announced in August, first-time domestic violence offenders would face six-game suspensions and repeat offenders would be suspended indefinitely.

Intriguingly, this sort of thoughtful honesty and analysis is precisely the sort of thing we say we want in our leaders. Yet when they actually do it, far too many critics are incredibly quick to use it as a weapon against them.

Just one question: why?