Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Solo and Female Exceptionalism

For a long time, my issue with Hope Solo was that she got a fair shake as an athlete, instead of being judged by a different standard as a female athlete. 

Meaning, I thought Solo shouldn't be expected to be kinder, sweeter, or more polite and soft-spoken than any male athlete who is competitive and eager to win. 

I defended her right to be honest, blunt, human and hungry for victory. I didn't think that U.S. Soccer should have to market her or the women's team as picture-perfect ladies. Let them get their ponytails dirty, lose tempers, let them be real people. 

That's partly why I cringed at the federation pushing stories of the women on the squad with traditional marriages & babies, but not celebrating in the same way the partnerships of those on the team in same-sex relationships. Abby Wambach, Lori Lindsey and Megan Rapinoe, for example. On the other hand, I understood the federation's idea of giving them the privacy to come out in their own way and in their own time. 

Ultimately, though, the being judged as an athlete standard comes down to one thing - are you good for the team, or are you a detriment? 

Solo's flouting of team rules isn't anything new for national team players. From the time they're first called into youth camps, there's a cat and mouse game on for some of the most rebellious players to see what they can get away with and still get called into the next camp. For the men's teams, I've heard stories of clubbing until dawn, picking up prostitutes, etc, all while supposedly under curfew rules. For the women's team, I've heard less rumors/stories, but always assumed some degree of the same flouting of the rules. 

The multiple drunken fights (with family and others) Solo has been involved in, and taking a team van out with her husband, Jerramy Stevens, while the pair had been drinking points to bad judgment at best and at worst, alcoholism. 

A substance abuse problem could be the health issue that sources in US soccer indicate Solo is dealing with. Athletes push themselves to the extreme and often, that leads to risks taken as well. But teams have to take a stand to protect the group - and ultimately, the athlete as well, if possible, from self-destructive behavior. 

So I'm not giving Solo a pass because of fall-out from her father's death years ago. It's possible she might be dealing with mental health issues as well, but drinking is a terrible way to self-medicate that. She should be disciplined, (and she is now suspended from the USWNT) and if she is unwilling to get help for her condition, whatever it may be, her national team and club future should be in jeopardy. 

Just like it should be for any athlete. 

What I would fault the national team for the most at this point is, knowing that Solo can be a loose cannon - why not get more starts for her backups? 

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