Feature image photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images
When I woke up the morning of the Women’s World Cup championship match, the first thing I did was reach for my phone to see who’d won. I don’t know a whole lot about soccer, but I love women’s sports — and, you know, women in general — and it brings me so much joy to see powerful female athletes celebrating and being celebrated. But opening my social media apps didn’t reveal hundreds of photos and videos of players jumping around on the field and dancing and spraying champagne all over the locker room. There was one picture posted over and over and over: Spain soccer federation (RFEF) president Luis Rubiales grabbing Spanish player Jenni Hermoso’s head between his hands and forcefully kissing her on the stage with the World Cup trophy.
It’s been a week since the incident was broadcast to hundreds of millions of people, and in that time Rubiales has doubled down (and down again, and again) on his disgusting actions, while soccer players around the world have spoken out on behalf of Jenni Hermoso. The clusterfuck of misogyny has included: RFEF issuing a statement claiming that Hermoso called the kiss “a gesture of friendship”; Hermoso issuing a statement saying that she did not say that at all, and that the kiss was not consensual; Rubiales sending coach Jorge Vilda to Hermoso’s family’s home three times to try to convince her to appear with him in an “apology” video; Rubiales refusing to resign, despite condemnation from nearly everyone involved in soccer and Spanish sports; RFEF threatening to sue Hermoso; and an emergency RFEF assembly where Rubiales ranted and raved like an unhinged lunatic about “witch hunts” and “fake feminists” and “social assassination.” Finally, this weekend, FIFA suspended Rubiales as Spain’s women’s coaches resigned en masse.
The show of support from athletes worldwide has been breathtaking. All 23 players on the World Cup championship team have signed a pledge not to play for Spain again until Rubiales is sacked. NWSL players have begun wearing wristbands that say “Contigo Jenni.” Fans at the Women’s Cup game between Atlético de Madrid and AC Milan had posters, banners, homemade t-shirts, and more declaring their support for Hermoso, and she received a standing ovation when she arrived at the game. USWNT star Alex Morgan said she was “disgusted” by Rubiales’ actions. England defender Alex Greenwood spoke out and said “enough is enough.” Beth Mead, another English footballer, said that no player should ever have to endure what Jenni went through, before adding, “Jenni Hermoso, we are all with you.” Megan Rapinoe, unsurprisingly, pulled no punches, naming Rubiales’ actions as “assault” fueled by a “deep level of misogyny and sexism.”
I didn’t know when I first saw the photo from the World Cup that Rubiales was already considered a dictatorial pariah in the world of women’s soccer, that he’d been accused of making lewd comments to women’s players all the way back in 2016, that his behavior had already caused 15 players to resign before the World Cup, that only moments before assaulting Hermoso he’d been grabbing his crotch and thrusting it while standing next to the Queen of Spain and her young daughter. But I inferred all of that and more in a single glance, because nearly every woman I know, including myself, has been assaulted similarly by the men in power in our lives. And I bet if you showed that photo to a hundred women, without context, at least 90 of them would come to the same conclusion.
When the USWNT won the World Cup in 2019, they went on victory tour that absolutely infuriated conservatives and men all over the world. Four years later, the world of women’s sports has taken an even more enormous step backward. To these men, women athletes are nothing more than playthings, dolls they can trot around and harass, refusing to treat them like professionals or even people, and taking all the credit for their victories. Rubiales had the gall to openly grope one of his players in a stadium full of 80,000 fans and in front of an audience of countless other people watching from home. That fact alone indicates clearly that he’s not an anomaly. He thought he’d get away with it because men like him have been getting away with it from the beginning of written history.
The men’s team Sevilla wore shirts over the weekend that read “it’s over,” in honor of Hermoso, referring to Rubiales. Maybe for him. I hope so. I also hope this is the beginning of a scum cleaning that sweeps through the entire sports world. Rubiales was once known as Spain’s soccer revolutionary; let him now be known, forever, as the beginning of a reckoning.