Editor’s note: As this essay was going to press, Luis Rubiales resigned as president of the Spanish soccer federation and vice-president of the Union of European Football Associations’ executive committee. The text has now been updated by the author to reflect these developments.
A split-second kiss during a soccer victory celebration last month ignited a political frenzy in Spain and a feeding frenzy in the global media. The target of that frenzy—Luis Rubiales, the president of Spain’s official soccer federation—resigned on Sunday, after weeks of protest against him. And with that decision, the possibility of a human future that still has a place for exuberance and common sense has taken a body blow.
On August 20th, Spain’s female soccer team won the Women’s World Cup in Australia. It was Spain’s first victory in that contest, and elation broke out on the field after the win. A reception line of dignitaries and sports functionaries greeted the players, many hugging and kissing. One player, Jennifer Hermoso, grabbed the president of Spain’s official soccer federation, Luis Rubiales, around the waist and lifted him off his feet as he laughed and shouted. When she let him down, they rocked back and forth in a mutual embrace. In rapid succession, he pecked her on the cheek while she patted him on his back, then he took her head in his hands, and planted an instantaneous kiss on her mouth. He immediately moved her head away from his, and still laughing and shouting, sent her down the receiving line with two loose-wristed thwacks on the back.
After Hermoso left the field, she streamed a live Instagram video of herself celebrating in the team locker room. She swigs from a champagne bottle and stuffs a chocolate cupcake in her mouth, while guffawing and smirking for her smartphone. Off camera someone asks what she thought of the kiss. Still laughing, she replies: “No me ha gustado, eh [I didn’t like it].” Footage also emerged of Hermoso and her teammates laughing about the incident on the team bus in front of Rubiales.
Spain’s feminists were less amused, and they started complaining that Hermoso had been sexually assaulted by Rubiales. For a while, Hermoso brushed off the allegation. In a statement sent to the Spanish news agency EFE, she wrote that the kiss was a “mutual gesture that was totally spontaneous prompted by the huge joy of winning a world cup. The ‘presi’ and I have a great relationship, his behavior with all of us has always been 10 [out of 10] and this was a natural gesture of affection and gratitude.” The feminists continued to flog the sexual assault claim, and Hermoso continued to reject it: “I wish they created [controversy] involving someone else, I’m a world champion and that’s what matters,” she told COPE radio.