There’s little doubt that the National Soccer Hall of Fame’s voting system is broken. Year after year, players you’d think should be an automatic yes are left to wait for the next year’s voting, until some of them inevitably shuffle over into the “veteran” category.
As a refresher, here’s how the HoF considers eligibility in the player category and does their voting:
In order to meet the player eligibility criteria established by the Board of Directors, a player must have met No. 1 and either No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4 of the following four criteria:
1. A player must have been retired for at least three full calendar years, but for no more than 10 full calendar years (for purposes of the 2014 election, this means that a player must have retired no later than 2010 and no earlier than 2004).
2. A player must have played at least 20 full international games for the United States. This 20-game requirement is reduced to 10 games if the games were prior to 1990.
3. A player must have played at least five seasons in an American first-division professional league and been a postseason league all-star at least once.
4. Played at least five seasons in the Major Indoor Soccer League between the end of the NASL in 1984 and the end of the MISL in 1992, and been selected as a first-team postseason all-star in at least one of those seasons.
The voters are comprised of “all present and former coaches of the Men’s and Women’s full National Team; all active MLS and NWSL coaches with a minimum of 4 years as head coach in a first division league; MLS and NWSL management representatives; MLS Commissioner; NWSL Executive Director; U.S. Soccer Secretary General; U.S. Soccer President; designated members of the media; all Hall of Famers.” A player has to be on 66.7% of ballots cast to join the HoF and voters can name up to 10 candidates. If no player meets that threshold, they do a second round of ranked voting. But this year, Carlos Bocanegra very deservedly became a Hall of Famer - the only player to make the cut.
Other players on the list? Hope Solo, Shannon Boxx, Kate Markgraf, and more. Shannon Boxx did not win at least one World Cup and two Olympic gold medals while living with lupus, which gave her joint and muscle pain and fatigue, to get disrespected by voters like this. But how many voters do you think actually knew that about Boxx, or even that she has such a long and storied history with the USWNT? Do you think any of them knew that Kate Markgraf, now general manager of the USWNT, is a 99er and Olympic gold medalist with over 200 caps for her country? Surely none of them missed the name Hope Solo, if not for easily being the best goalkeeper in the world for years, then at the very least for the very public way that USSF suspended her after the 2016 Olympics or her various legal problems or even her own campaign for USSF president.
Of course, you could also speculate that all these things are very much why voters chose not to put her on their ballots, which is its own conversation about what we’re owed by athletes on the field versus off the field. If a player has done things wrong off the field - and it’s not in dispute that Solo has had her fair share of wrongdoing - then does that, should that, influence who we choose to officially valorize? If the Soccer Hall of Fame wants to go that way, that’s up to them, but a morality clause is not currently part of their voting criteria as far as we know. And if this is not a case of voters holding Hope Solo’s non-soccer actions against her, then it’s a case of them not knowing who she is, which is simply baffling if you claim to have any kind of hall-of-fame-voting level knowledge of American soccer.
Let’s interrogate some of those selection committee categories, like “all active MLS and NWSL coaches with a minimum of 4 years as head coach in a first division league.” Leaving aside that NWSL is only in its eighth season, that means that Farid Benstiti, who has spent the majority of his coaching career in France and only this year joined OL Reign, is eligible to vote, but people like Freya Coombe and Craig Harrington, both of whom have worked in the American youth soccer system and been NWSL assistant coaches, are not. Let’s also note that NWSL currently has one female head coach in Coombe at Sky Blue FC, and that head coach positions in NWSL (and in MLS) have in practice locked women out. The Hall of Fame itself skews very heavily towards men, tilting yet another voting group away from giving women their just consideration or even in knowing about them at all.
And what about “designated members of the media”? We don’t know how heavily that voting bloc is tilted towards those who only or primarily cover men’s soccer, but given the general soccer media landscape, it’s not hopeful that there’s an even distribution there.
Look, deserving male players got snubbed too. Steve Cherundolo didn’t make it; neither did Jaime Moreno. Brian Straus at Sports Illustrated reported that the HoF got over 80% voter turnout this year and Carlos Bocanegra still only barely squeaked in with 68.5% of the vote. But if Boca himself made it with such a narrow margin, then what hope do his female counterparts have, with their fraction of TV coverage and media exposure? As Straus noted, the HoF is “implementing a revised voting structure and procedures that they hope will be in place next year.” They too have noticed that their procedure kind of sucks. It would be great if they didn’t just consider this a logistical issue and restructured while keeping in mind the biases that may be at play in the voting.