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What’s Wrong with a Little Hope?

“If you truly expect to realize your dreams, abandon the need for blanket approval. If conforming to everyone’s expectations is the number one goal, you have sacrificed your uniqueness, and therefore your excellence.”
-Hope Solo

Doesn’t it make perfect sense that it would be Seattle Sounders FC keeper Hope Solo who would welcome Terrell Owens to the Seattle Seahawks on her Twitter feed? And later ask how long Metta World Peace would be on for his latest TV appearance? All three of them have been lightning rods for “controversy.” Which in their cases is a euphemism for “loud and brash with people hating them for no conceivably good reason.”

I’m a soccer fan. I started actively getting into The Beautiful Game about ten years ago during the 2002 World Cup. That was the World Cup set in Asia, when westerners had to get up so early to watch the games that there was no real point in going to bed in Buffalo if you closed the bar at the city’s traditional 4 AM time. When the local news did a report about people getting up that early and going to bars just to catch the matches, I started to wonder what the rest of the world knew that the United States didn’t and made it a point to catch at least one game. I caught that game a few days later and I can’t even remember which teams were playing against each other, but it was love at first sight. I caught matches regularly for the next couple of years, began following MLS when it began making headway onto the American sports radar in 2005, began keeping track of the European leagues in 2007, and in 2010 I took the completion step, adopting a team from Europe to follow in Arsenal FC, the legendary Premier League club from North London, before eventually settling on Liverpool FC.

Of course, dedicating oneself to the world’s most popular sport means cheering on the national team, no matter how badly they suck. The United States National Team – alternately called the Red, White, and Blue, or the Stars and Stripes, but most often simply the Yanks – has led a famously up and down existence. The men’s team has qualified for the World Cup only nine times. Their best finish was in their first appearance all the way back in 1930, when they finished in third place. After qualifying for the following World Cup in 1934, they underwent a 16-year dry spell before their legendary upset of the English national side, then the best in the world. After that, they missed the next four decades before coming to consistency starting in 1990. But one of the pleasures of supporting the Yanks is the fact that we get to cheer for the women’s national side as well, and… Well, Yank ladies can fucking PLAY. In the Women’s World Cup – established in 1991 – the women’s side has been absolutely dominant, winning the entire tournament twice (1991, 1999), the runners-up once (2011), and never finishing below third. They’ve qualified for every tournament. Their lowest-ever FIFA ranking was second. Despite my moral objections to the International Olympic Committee, you won’t often see me turn down a chance to watch Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Heather Mitts, Hope Solo, and the rest of the women’s national side. Like my beloved baseball Yankees, these Yanks can virtually guarantee wins, so there’s no worry about IF they’re going to win. I love to watch the women’s Yanks because they have the greatest collection of talent anywhere, playing cohesively, in perfect unison, which doesn’t happen very often in American sports. I love to watch them because I want to see HOW they win.

Hope Solo has been a constant with the Yanks since 2000, with 124 caps (a fancy soccer term for appearances), and a magnet for sports commentators’ ire for some time now as well. See, she’s one of those people who doesn’t come with a mouth filter, so she tends to ruffle feathers. In 2007, she was famously benched during the Women’s World Cup. Solo hadn’t done anything to warrant a benching. She had led the Yanks to victories over Sweden, Nigeria, and England – all shutouts – before coach Greg Ryan decided to go on a hunch. In fairness to him, replacement Briana Scurry had an outstanding performance history against their impending opponents, Brazil. But she hadn’t played a full game in three months, and so her 36-year-old body wasn’t quite properly prepared to withstand a full onslaught against Marta and the rest of the Samba Queens. Brazil being, you know, Brazil, they humiliated and embarrassed Scurry and the rest of the Yanks in a one-sided 4-0 rout, and Solo flipped out. Going to the media, Solo claimed her replacement was the wrong decision, that she could have made those saves, and Ryan shouldn’t have made a decision based on a performance from 2004. After her outburst, the team decided she needed to be made an example of and benched her for the rest of the year. In 2010, she claimed to have heard racist insults coming from the stands during one match in which her Atlanta Beat played against the Boston Breakers, left the media session without speaking or signing autographs, and used Twitter to address the issue.

What’s been forgotten is that when Solo was benched, everyone was initially on her side in 2007. Solo wears her competitiveness on the outside, and her comments shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Being benched when you’ve proven yourself has to be frustrating, and it’s clear Solo was venting over the fact that Greg Ryan tried a radical strategy which backfired. I don’t know what everyone was so upset about in Boston. If Solo did hear people shouting racial slurs at her teammates from the stands, she was totally in the right to react the way she did. What’s the chance that she heard people shout slurs, though? They have to be next to nil. After all, Boston has a rich history of racial diversity and tolerance, right? It’s a well-known fact that no minorities have ever been wronged there, and that Boston has always been, is now, and shall always be a real bastion of equal opportunity where minorities are treated with nothing but the utmost dignity and respect, I’m sure.

Solo has owned the last couple of years. After the 2011 Women’s World Cup, she made waves by doing something a lot of famous women do: Get nekkid and let people take pictures of her for magazines. In a blatant example of how women can’t catch breaks and are held to double standards, people got on her back for this decision. Solo’s nudies are unique, though, because she wasn’t doing it as a celebration of her emergent status as a sex symbol for a magazine that catered to overly hormonal men. She did it for ESPN Magazine, which was photographing several athletes in the buff as a celebration of fitness and athleticism. The pictures are tastefully done and don’t reveal anything which would cause parents to scream about the children. Although the designated heartbreaker role for the Yanks was given to Alex Morgan in a landslide with Heather Mitts being the backup, Solo is a gorgeous woman who definitely turns her share of heads too.

Although the spread was only barely sexual and brought tons of positive attention to the women’s side, commentators still accused her of being there to promote the Hope Solo Brand Inc. The universal reasoning appears to have been that it SEEMED like she was in it for her own selfish reasons. I haven’t read even one convincing argument against her nude photos. Every last piece about her that mentions them dismisses them in a quick huff.

During the 2012 Olympics, she stood out in every way. The past couple of weeks have been a banner to both the otherworldliness and humanity of Hope Solo. After a June 15 drug test, she tested positive for a banned substance. I don’t need to repeat my belief here that drugs of every stripe should be legalized in order to excuse Solo; Solo didn’t need to be excused. The banned substance happened to come as an ingredient in her pre-menstrual meds, and after Solo gave the USADA her full cooperation, her story checked out and she was cleared. The positive drug test was reported. The checkout, not so much.

As Solo deftly defended the American goal during the Olympics, she was beset by controversy with nearly everything she said or did. With her autobiography coming out soon, Solo released an excerpt about being conceived in a prison. Then she talked about how she and her 2008 Gold Medal teammates from the Beijing Olympics partied all night and appeared on The Today Show drunk and on zero sleep, and also invited an unnamed celebrity up to her room. She got into a Twitter war with former teammate – and 1999 World Cup champion – Brandi Chastain. She went on Dancing with the Stars, which also pissed everyone off for some reason. The popular complaint was that she was seeking attention for her autobio, which is being released tomorrow. I’m not sure how right it is to jump to the conclusion that Solo was looking for the attention; after all, don’t books usually spend months in publication at the very least? She’s a marquee athlete, so the book was bound to be brought up whether or not she had kept her mouth shut.

The Olympics were rocked by scandal weeks before the opening ceremonies because someone revealed that the Olympic Village where the athletes are put up are also giant orgies. This makes perfect sense when you think about it. When you’re a teenager or young adult who has no real life because you’ve spent nearly every minute of every day training to build your Olympic-worthy physique, it’s probably tough to avoid being overwhelmed by hormones while sharing unsupervised housing with some of the most physically perfect specimens the opposite gender – or the same gender, for that matter – has to offer. All Solo did by mentioning her partying and celebrity fling was confirm the new perception of the Olympic Village being a giant frat house, and for my life I don’t see what was so wrong about that. Why is it that sports columnists are so offended by the idea that these athletes are human beings, who in many cases have been deprived of a real life, acting like regular young people? If anything, the Olympic Village is a fine opportunity to cut loose the old regimen, socialize, and possibly make a few friends among a big crowd of uniquely reared people who are able to understand the kind of strain and pressure you were raised under yourownself. I won’t even get into the fact that a “scandal” like this is actually good for the International Olympic Committee, because a nonsensical little scandal like that would be a useful cover for the fact that the poor and underprivileged people of Rio de Janeiro are being forcibly removed from their homes because of them.

Solo’s spat with Chastain was a bit of an overreaction, because Solo’s comments are a lot harsher than the comment Chastain made about her teammate which tipped it off. Chastain’s comment also had some validity. But what I got out of Solo’s reaction was that Solo was leaping to the defense of a teammate as if she had been a target herself. I like that because it shows how far she would go to protect and defend her team. Julie Foudy wrote that Solo’s outburst doesn’t show any signs of leadership, but don’t great leaders stand up for their troops? What’s more, her benching in 2007 was the result of her team getting pissed at her and voting in favor of it. Solo stood up for at least a few players who put her on the bench five years ago.

Stereotypically bullshit was the way the media rushed to attack Solo for trying to become her own brand name while defending Chastain, a woman who, after scoring the game-winning goal in the 1999 World Cup, ripped her shirt off, revealing her sports bra and the brand name plastered all over it. The reactions of sports columnists like Foudy, Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post, and Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times has been to try to deflect the fact that Chastain did that by pointing out everything Chastain accomplished with her teams, and saying the women’s team wouldn’t be where it is now if not for Chastain, claiming that Solo hasn’t done anything in comparison to her senior ex-teammate. The Olympic Gold Medal she won in 2008 is a pretty high honor, though, and her taking the Yanks to the brink of the World Cup in 2011 wasn’t too shabby either. She’s won a score of individual awards as well, and is considered the best in the world at her position. Think about that; soccer is the most popular sport in the world. Billions of people have booted the ball around the pitch at one point or another, including a countless number of women. Hope Solo is better than all of them. Trumpeting Chastain’s accomplishments just to degrade Solo is blatantly ignoring and rejecting everything Solo has done.

As far as her playing on Dancing with the Stars, I guess it was optimistic of me to think the media wouldn’t be piling on. That’s the sole basis of hating her for her Dancing appearance. They hate her for a lot of other things, so let’s hate her for going on a kitch show that lots of athletes have gone on before (with one of them, Emmitt Smith, actually winning the whole competition). Olympic athletes who haven’t retired are among the show’s alumni, but I don’t recall such outrage over Misty May showing up to play twinkletoes.

Let’s see: So far Hope Solo has been scrutinized this year for a smear coming from a media that didn’t do its research and won’t report the fact that she’s clean; adding her two cents to a fake scandal which upset people because it wrecked their images of Olympic athletes being pure, chaste, clean-cut people who wouldn’t dream of doing anything but perfecting their physical molds; defending her teammates from criticism (even though it was light criticism that was warranted); told a story to promote a book whose publication coincided with the Olympics; appearing in a magazine spread which glorified human physicality and brought attention to the Yanks for a good reason; and dancing on TV. Next thing you know, she’ll begin complaining that her team doesn’t have a league to play in for the upcoming soccer season, the bitch! It’s worth noting that one of the primary complaints coming from every sportswriter who attacked her was that she was going to end up being a distraction for her team. It’s also worth noting that her team hasn’t said anything bad about her. With that, I’m glad the women won the Gold, so everyone who used that excuse would have to eat crow. So far, Solo has shown a ton of class by not rubbing it in sportswriters’ faces. If she suddenly begins doing that, she has every right.

It would be refreshing if some columnist finally came forward and just told the truth: They don’t like Hope Solo because she falls outside the mold we’ve cast for our Olympian heroes. For that, she has permanently placed herself on my personal list of all-time favorite Olympic athletes. There’s nothing wrong with the quiet humility shown by other members of the team, but when all is said and done, in a park pickup contest, I want the player who defends the team that voted to bench her. I want a fiery, emotionally raging leader who leaves everything on the pitch. I want a person who is dedicated to her game but still can cut loose. I want the player who is vocal about frustration, has complete confidence in her own abilities, and believes her teammates are the greatest group of people in the world.

In layman’s terms so simple that even the amputee bigot Morrissey could recognize them, I want Hope Solo. She is the greatest thing to ever happen to the Yanks, and it’s a shame holier-than-thou-art sportswriters are too stupid to realize that.


About Nicholas Croston

I like to think. A lot. I like to question, challenge, and totally shock and unnerve people. I am a contrarian - whatever you stand for, I'm against.

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