Death. Taxes. The need to make a reference to the Super Bowl in a piece posted on Jan. 29. Despite the uncertainties of the human condition, there are a few things you can count on. ‘Salacious headlines about Hope Solo’ has become one of them. Yet, despite Solo’s consistently poor choices, repercussions have been remarkably inconsistent. Since she was excluded from the team after speaking out about her benching during the 2007 World Cup, Solo has somehow managed to avoid any significant backlash — until now.
Perhaps this is because, though away from the field Solo courts chaos with the same zeal Kendall Jenner accumulates Instagram followers, on the field she can be the epitome of cool, collected composure. A review of her disciplinary record with the two-year-old NWSL reveals a single yellow for dissent in 2014. Philippe Mexès she is not. It may be a tad unfair to penalize a professional athlete when her transgressions, rather than bleeding out onto the field, are confined to her personal life.
Or perhaps the reason Solo’s shenanigans have largely been met with a shrug of the shoulders is the fact that she is so pivotal to the U.S. women’s national team, so unparalleled among her peers. If she were, say, a slightly more marginal player, or if there was another woman who could fill her shoes, she may have been benched for accusing a former coach of assault then facing the same charge herself. Yet she’s escaped the smoldering flames of her perpetual self-created problems, time and again, unscathed.
As volatile as Solo is, she’s also one of the game’s most valuable commodities, and with that star power comes a type of carte blanche for bad behavior. Back when Solo’s family brawl was still big news, Neil Buethe, a spokesman for U.S. Soccer, told USA Today that Solo would be allowed to play even with criminal charges hanging over her head. Buethe explained the promotion of Solo’s potential record-breaking 73rd shutout in terms of “an opportunity to set a significant record,” with U.S. Soccer believing the federation should honor her “in the proper way.”
U.S. Soccer received no small amount of criticism for its choice. The national team is among the most famous women’s teams in the world, in any sport. What kind of message, the critics asked, did U.S. Soccer’s treatment of Hope Solo’s mess send to the millions of young girls and women this team inspires? The answer is not one that the organization would be proud of. This blasé attitude towards Solo’s bad behavior implies it can be excused so long as one has some sort of extraordinary attribute to justify it.
The difference between Solo’s prior incidents and her most recent stunt is that, this time, the damage finally bled into her role with U.S. Soccer. Solo was involved in an altercation with police officers in Los Angeles when her husband was arrested for driving under the influence. Reports indicate that she almost racked up another arrest herself. This happened while she was at training camp, which she joined after appearing in court in Washington on those domestic violence charges alluded to above. Oh, and her husband was driving the team’s van at the time.
This last lapse in judgement (as the federation so diplomatically characterized it), it seems, was the last straw. Where Solo was once tirelessly defended by an enamored public, there is now talk of#SoloOut, and fewer people seem willing to hold her up as a role model for impressionable young women. Finally, after numerous other close calls, Hope Solo’s star seems to have finally dimmed.
America reveres athletes, subjecting them to near-obsessive worship and idealization, making them manifestations of contemporary Greek heroes. Perhaps this is why we are so quick to castigate them after a single misstep. We look to them to provide an example, and when they fall short of our expectations, the individuals we idolize become the object of scorn. Yet the heroes of ancient Greece were not paragons of perfection; they were fallible human beings, much like us. They stumbled. They erred. They failed.
Solo’s fall from grace has humanized her. If we truly look to our athletes for inspiration, Solo can rise from the ashes of her own smoldering wreck, reborn as a role model once more. Solo has finally been given what she desperately needs: time away from the glare of the public eye to reflect, regroup, and — her legions of still-loyal fans fervently hope — reform.
At this juncture, Solo can go one of two ways. She can continue to be her belligerent self. Or she can seize the opportunity to adjust her life. If she can pull herself together, Solo can truly provide a success story to emulate. She can rewrite her own legend and demonstrate that we are the masters of our own destinies. And if there’s anything America loves more than a hot mess, it’s a heartwarming story of redemption.