My, how a lot can change in just a few years. When Hope Solo was benched in the 2007 World Cup, everybody loved her, backed her, and believed it to be a mistake. When the team turned against her for publicly lashing out, people defended her. Now, a lot of those same people appear to be using that incident as evidence of her being selfish and a bad role model.
I won't get into one of my lectures about how professional athletes owe it to no one to be stand-up positive role models. But of the ill-behaved brethren of professional athletes, I do sometimes see certain contexts that need to be considered. On the one hand, you have the ones who double as professional criminals. Mike Tyson and Michael Vick are among the top class of criminals. Now, they've both been doing great jobs of getting themselves together, and I'm actually cheering for them because I like a good redemption story, but I'm not quite ready to let them off the hook right now. Then you have your flashy bombastic athletes who take a lot of crap because they're excitable and very, very good at self-promotion, but in many cases don't actually do anything wrong. Terrell Owens, Deion Sanders, and Chad Ochocinco Johnson fall into that category. Then you have the ones who appear as snide, demeaning, churlish, and antisocial, but it's not because they're malicious. It's because they're private and emotional and just don't know how to be any other way. Jay Cutler is one example. Hope Solo also falls into this class.
Solo: A Memoir of Hope brings an unprecedented glimpse of Hope Solo which shows us the kinds of things which might be swirling around in her head. Early on, Solo wishes that she wish she knew the whole story of how her father got to move to her hometown of Richland, Washington. Not to trivialize the story or Solo's upbringing, but since she talks about him, I wish I knew it too now, because it sounds like it would be pretty interesting. Apparently, the person she knew as Gerry Solo was a guy who held one of those weird double lives, to make a long story short. He had one entirely separate family away from Hope and her brother, Marcus, that Solo knows of. She bluntly explains that there might well have been others. Some of the real details weren't uncovered until her father's death in 2007, and Solo still doesn't know what the whole story is.
The surprising thing about Solo's new autobio is how personal and intimate it is. It promises a side of the United States Women's Soccer Team's keeper that few have ever glimpsed, and it delivers. Here are a few things I learned about Hope Solo from reading Solo: 1 - She's afraid of sharks, has a severe fear of flying, and, to a lesser extent, is afraid of the ocean. 2 - Her mother was an alcoholic. 3 - She's very introverted. 4 - When she first began playing for the Yanks, she experienced a minor rift with her college team. 5 - She's very critical of the way her first professional league, the WUSA, was run.
Although the book is about Solo's life and career, her father hangs a giant specter over it. For all his flaws and problems, Solo and her father were immensely loyal to each other and loved each other, despite some very early friction. Solo's father comes across as a man who spent his later years trying to redeem himself for his earlier mistakes, and always did love his family no matter what his circumstances were.
Solo is less fond of Greg Ryan. Solo had a contentious relationship with Ryan from the start, and from her descriptions, Ryan comes off as a cross between an affable doofus and a power monger who is paranoid about getting undermined. A lot of the reputation this book has earned is from Solo's descriptions of the ostracization she faced after her infamous flipout attacks on Ryan during the 2007 World Cup, after her benching. Surely you've heard the stories by now: Not allowed to eat with the team, had to take a separate plane back from China, had to sit in a circle while her teammates lambasted her, was encouraged to give her medal and money back, and once got on an elevator with her teammates only to have them quickly dash off. Carli Lloyd was the only friend she had throughout the ordeal, and apparently Lloyd was once cornered by Abby Wambach, who bashed her for standing at Solo's side. It's implied that Ryan was culpable for encouraging a lot of this behavior.
I found Solo's criticisms of the women's soccer leagues to be some of the most interesting stories in the book. The fold of the WUSA was particularly hard on her, because she believed she had arrived after getting drafted by the Philadelphia Charge, but learned she wasn't in the same class as the most popular sports leagues in the country. She also saw the league owners blowing right through their budget, trying to get their players to believe they had entered the big time. As it turned out, they threw away five years' worth of cash in just one year. She also criticizes the officials in one of her later leagues, when she played for the Atlanta Beat and Magicjack. Although angry with the way the leagues were run, she was very fond of the owners of two of her teams, Saint Louis Athletica and Magicjack.
It's the personal anecdotes that stuck with me the most. I've written in the past defending Solo for a lot of behavior people perceived as bad, abrasive, and detrimental. Reading Solo helped to confirm a lot of the things I thought she was reacting to. Her recent tweets at Brandi Chastain were her way of reacting to not Chastain in particular, but the way the shadow of the 1999 women's side still looms over everything else the team has accomplished since. I believed it very shameful the way people react to the women's side now, and I thought the way the moral-whipping sportswriters kept comparing Chastain's teams to Solo's was one thoughtless and stupid. For those who don't know, the sports media tried to write off everything Solo's teams ever accomplished. Chastain's teams won two World Cups and two Olympic Gold Medals. Solo's won two Olympic Gold Medals, a Silver in one World Cup, and a whopping EIGHT Algarve Cups, a prize Chastain's teams were never quite able to haul in despite two second-place finishes in the tournament.
Solo is not meant to be a funny autobiography. It's here so Solo can explain why she acts the way she does and make peace with a lot of her past. Hope Solo being Hope Solo, there are times she comes across as contentious, but of all the people who have had problems with her, she only takes hard shots at one person, Greg Ryan. There are points where she comes across as very sweet, actually, in particular to her father, her boyfriend, and Carli Lloyd, her best friend on the Yanks. There are other times when she appears repentant or confused.
It's a dangerous thing to presume, but Solo feels like an all-access pass to the mind of the world's greatest keeper. Of course, Solo's detractors have tried to write it off. But no matter what, Solo is known for her outspokenness and oft-brutal honesty, and thanks to Solo, we can all understand a little better just why that is.