Hope Solo, who has been the U.S. ambassador to “Hey, You Wanna Fight, Punk?” for nearly a decade, just got the backhand she seemed to have been spoiling for all these years.
This time, U.S. Soccer, the people who run . . . well, what do you think they run? . . . decided to suspend her for six months for her postgame analysis of the U.S.-Sweden match from the Olympics in which she graciously described the Swedes as “cowards” for not playing the way Solo wanted them to play.
The suspension isn’t that much of a much anyway. There are no huge moments for the U.S. women’s team in the next half-year, and what moments there could be after that can be spent looking for the next Hope Solo.
Solo the goalkeeper, not Solo the social scientist.
But Solo’s verbal pugnacity was adjudged an embarrassment to the nation in the face of a legitimate defeat by a worthy opponent, an act of ill grace that needed punishment on the grounds that “You said something stupid that made us all look bad, even though it only made you look bad.”
And, it was stressed by whichever annoyed civil servant had to type the release, that Solo was paying the price she paid for being, well, Solo, which Solo even acknowledged in her own statement, which also was almost surely typed by someone else.
The key phrase: “I could not be the player I am without being the person I am, even when I haven’t made the best choices or said the right things.”
This would be the “I Yam What I Yam” defense as first articulated by Popeye the Sailor, and it carries as much throw-weight as a Popeye cartoon. Solo did not lash out as, say, Curt Schilling has in his latest brushes with The Man, but she basically said, “I must speak my truth.”
Which of course she actually doesn’t have to, and as an adult has control over what truths she chooses to share.
In this, her truth was actually an idiocy, since Sweden did what many teams do when confronted by a team with superior firepower. It played defensively, carefully and safely, and won in a penalty shootout because those are the rules by which the sport is conducted. The Swedes were not dirty, or divers, or time-wasters. They were tactical, and Solo’s complaint spoke more to frustration than a lack of understanding of tactics.
But it sounded stupid, in the same way that Pete Rose sounded stupid when he complained that Gene Garber wouldn’t throw him a fastball when Rose’s 44-game hitting streak was broken in 1978. Rose wanted the game to be played under “Call your own pitch rules,” just as Solo wanted Sweden to play in a style that disadvantaged Sweden.
Frankly, I’d have given her a year for speaking nonsense.
But what she did to put the final straw on the dromedary’s neck was to claim she could not be a great goalkeeper without the right to speak nonsense, and to act like a crass dullard when confronted with disappointment. She is saying she could not excel as an athlete without being a deliberate boor, which is a remarkable amount of leeway to give anyone.
The fact is, Hope Solo would be every bit the goalkeeper she has been if she hadn’t found ways to ram her cleats inside her mouth at inopportune moments. Her talent is not governed by her tongue, and her will to win is not affected by the freedom of her yap to flap.
And this comes from a First Amendment absolutist. Solo has the right to say what she feels, when she feels it. But in that way, her employers get to tell her what they think about it, and the public gets to say what they think about her and her employer on the issue.
So here’s the public saying, “We defend Solo’s right to speak, but she spoke stupidly, and since she’s had a habit of doing so, US Soccer has decided to look for alternatives to her unfettered cakehole."
Now if she’d called the Russians “cowards,” maybe that would have flown. Or if she’d said, “Shootouts suck,” she’d have been hailed as a sage. But the right to free speech in this society is governed most often by the range of an employer’s tolerance. Or a government’s. Or the public’s.
So this is the end of it? Probably not, because no scab ever goes unpicked, and no cause ever fully dies. Hope Solo gets six months, and may never play for the national team again, unless of course it can’t find a better goalkeeper. Because what we know as the First Amendment is actually filed under the actual First Amendment, known to historians as the Talent-Tolerance scale.
Specifically, we tolerate the behavior of the talent until we can find better talent to tolerate. US Soccer just put out a call to arms to find a more socially pliable goalkeeper/spokesman than Hope Solo, so she can be someone else’s problem from now on.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com