Boehm: Soccer fans should second-guess their hate for Hope Solo

Every time I get the opportunity to write about the U.S. Women’s National Team, I can’t help but notice the markedly different tones of the conversations about this team compared to its male counterparts.

Though it’s improving with each passing year, women’s players are still often treated as role models or walking backstories rather than elite athletes. A gauzy lens of storybook moralizing obscures the fact that they’re complicated, three-dimensional human beings who’ve climbed to the top of a keenly competitive sport and fended off those who try to unseat them.

+READ: USWNT defeats France 1-0 in second Olympic match

The players and coaches themselves are almost always polite and patient on these matters. They usually do their best to answer even the silly or patronizing questions and welcome most any opportunity to spread the word about their sport and their team. So it is with this month’s Olympic soccer tournament as well.

But one USWNTer takes a sledgehammer to all that, both by choice and by simply being herself. She topples incumbent narratives and inflames opinion like no other women’s soccer player on earth. She also happens to be the very best at what she does, both now and maybe for all time.

Hope Solo.

Chicago, IL - July 9, 2016: The U.S. Women's National team defeat South Africa 1-0 during an international friendly game at Soldier field.

The mere name triggers grimaces and sneers among millions. They see an unhinged egotist whose abilities on the field shouldn’t distract us from the domestic violence charges that continue to dog her from a tussle with her nephew and half-sister, along with multiple other incidents of questionable judgment.

There was her outspoken criticism of her coach and teammate after she was suddenly benched for a 2007 Women’s World Cup semifinal vs. Brazil (the USWNT lost in stunning and one-sided fashion). There was the 2012 altercation with her now-husband, scandal-plagued former NFL player Jerramy Stevens, that led to his arrest on suspicion of assault just one day before their marriage.

That matter was soon dropped. But in January 2015 Stevens was pulled over in Manhattan Beach, California and charged with DUI with Solo in the passenger’s seat – of a USWNT team van, late at night during a team training camp. Solo was suspended from the team for 30 days as a result.

Then there were her saucy revelations about the USWNT’s hard partying after their 2008 Olympic gold-medal triumph, when she said they appeared on “The Today Show” still drunk after a boozy all-nighter. Some take issue with her decision to appear nude in ESPN Magazine’s “The Body Issue” in 2011, though dozens of other top athletes have done the same, including some of her teammates.

+READ: Solo back in legal trouble as Wash. court re-opens domestic violence case

HopeSoloCover The Body IssueMost recently, she’s been showered with boos and jeering chants during Olympic matches by Brazilian fans angry with her outspoken remarks and social-media posts about the dangers of the Zika virus and her discomfort with being potentially exposed by competing in the tournament.

Solo more or less says she doesn’t give a damn about the peanut gallery, and it’s not hard to believe her.

“What’s important to me is that I played the best quality of football that I can play, and that hopefully our team makes it to the final,” Solo told the Associated Press after Saturday’s 1-0 win over France, where her saves rescued her teammates from an off-color performance. “If [the fans] are having fun, great. I like a loud stadium. But it really doesn’t mean anything to me.

“I’m just being myself playing soccer. They can love me or hate me, I’m just going to continue doing the same things.”

That’s a pretty professional response to a situation of her own making. But for some, it just adds to that checkered past, and her polarizing effect on those who watch the USWNT.

Her fans – and they are legion, and devoted – see a driven, resilient survivor who’s overcome a dysfunctional childhood to reach greatness. Others – seemingly many more – see something much darker and more troubling, a selfish star whose skills have allowed her to dodge accountability for bad choices.

+READ: Dure: Will Twitter and TMZ swamp women’s soccer?

There might well be something to that last part, even if the “hot take” columns drawing false equivalencies between her and the likes of Ray Rice are ludicrously misleading and ill-advised. The United States is a place where sports icons routinely get second chances and benefits of doubt that rank-and-file citizens can only dream of. Many of the same Olympics watchers thrilled by gold-medal-winning US swimmer Lilly King‘s outspoken condemnation of banned-substance-using “dopers” will soon cheer for track stars Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay, both of whom served doping suspensions in the past.

Solo’s list of transgressions, though dramatically longer than those of the typical women’s international soccer player, are right in line with what we’ve seen from top-tier athletes for decades. Michael Jordan has a revered place as basketball’s all-time great – along with a well-documented proclivity for gambling. Babe Ruth was by all accounts a womanizing, booze-guzzling libertine, but remains the eternal demigod of baseball (let’s not even get started on Ty Cobb).

Pelé | Photo courtesy of the New York Cosmos

Even the incomparable Pelé has become something of a caricature in his latter life, due to his overweening fondness for, shall we say, any and all lucrative commercial opportunities. Diego Maradona has grappled with drug abuse and myriad other scandals for most of his life (and was disqualified from the 1994 World Cup after testing positive for a banned substance). The legendary George Best let fast living distract him from even reaching the achievement levels of those two in the first place.

Many of us regret the flaws of those men, but they often serve to add to their legend, too. The deep, consuming alcoholism of Best’s latter years has only marginally marred his image as a swinging ’60s/’70s bon vivant and devil-may-care maverick of the pitch.

Hope Solo is rarely cut any such slack. The overriding impression I get from rank-and-file soccer fans is smoldering bitterness towards a “bad girl,” a player who’s stepped out of line repeatedly and hasn’t been punished as she should be. There’s undoubtedly a healthy dose of chauvinism – perhaps even outright misogyny – lurking in that complex public perception. With our collective perspective on women’s sports so in flux, so rapidly evolving, it’s not shocking that most of us simply don’t know how to process what and who she is.

Our rooting proclivities rarely make total sense, and I don’t expect them to. But in Solo’s case, the conventional wisdom has traveled so far down the pike that it’s become jarring to behold.

I see a complex, flawed person who’s a product of her environment – regardless of how much stock you put in her own depictions of a chaotic childhood with her star-crossed father Jeffrey, a Vietnam veteran and convicted embezzler who spent the later years of his life living in a tent. Yes, I will readily admit to being influenced by Solo’s relentless greatness on the field. How can anyone who’s watched the sum of her career call her anything but the best ‘keeper in women’s soccer history?

Hope-Solo-closeupAs with the great heroes mentioned earlier, it’s futile to try and separate Solo’s demons from her abilities. Her “Hope stans,” the devotees who often cluster to attack her detractors online, do her – and themselves – a disservice when they deny her flaws and missteps. She’s reached her current level both because of, and in spite of who she is. It’s what makes her one of the most fascinating personalities in world soccer, and it’s what draws us to tune in by the millions to her games, or her appearances on “Dancing With The Stars,” or click on reports of her latest controversy.

She’s simply the best at what she does, even – or maybe especially – at age 35. She’s done it in a way that perhaps no female athlete ever has before. And like it or not, we’ll miss her when she’s gone.

By | August 9, 2016 | 27 Comments | Tags: , , , ,


  1. Danilo says:

    Just stopping by to wish Solo a warm trip home, to alert her to avoid stopping by in Florida because of the Zika, to wish her to train more, and to support her after being called “the worst Olympic example ever” by the International media after her incredible disrespect towards Sweden after the game. Karma at it’s best…when people ask her “how was the Olympics in Rio she will answer “I don’t know, I was such a loser that I didn’t even managed to be in Rio…” TCHAU QUERIDA!!

  2. Pierre Alexander says:

    Come on guys. Our house our rules. You can’t come here in Brazil and try to change the way we behave while watching a game. This is Latin America. This is not north America or Europe where most people are cold. We aren’t and we’ll keep booing cause that’s the way we do things here.

    • Anna says:

      I have to say I haven’t fallen in love with the Brazilian people from watching how they behave in the Olympic stands. Not only can most of them not afford the tickets which says a lot about how bad the economy and government is, but many of them are more interested in cheering to get caught by a camera instead of watching the sport. I also don’t like how they’re treating Russian athletes. These athletes bear the shame of their country and don’t need you adding to it by booing them. They’re just young hard working athletes who had nothing to do with it. Brazil is a third world country and needs to modernize and pull people up out of poverty. Poverty of the material and poverty of the mind.

      • Danilo says:

        Hi there Ms Racist, rich, white and beautiful…before start hating on another country, are you aware of the problems of your country such as police racial killings, school and public shootings, lack of public healthcare, torture, children killing during civilian bombings after oil, environment destruction…I mean even after having Trump as a candidate you guys don’t have better arguments besides a bunch of racist biased nonsense crap? Do you know that 2 millions US citizens last year went to Brazil and India after “medical tourism”? Do you know that Brazilians helped (a lot) US in 2007/08 during the crisis that YOUR banks created in the world due to poor management? What level of education do you have, were you in class during college or were you busy with college athletes, parties, drugs, booz, videos and all the stuff that goes on in your colleges? I’m sorry to give such an answer for you, and thanks to everyone polite here, I had only the intention to explain that we don’t hate Solo or any US athlete, but clearly some of you are too racist to have a simple argument and are transforming this into a hate speech.You’re not worth it to spend any more minute of my life with you.

        • Anna says:

          I’m not from America and the things you describe as issues in America are true. No country is without it’s problems. I just think the Olympics is a time to put those things aside, not boo athletes.

    • Andrew Sammarco says:

      Just because that’s how you do things there doesn’t make it at all right. There’s a difference between crowd fanfare and actual insults being thrown at the opposition. When looking at the entire list of things like this that have been committed, Hope Solo aside, the facts are there.

  3. Sahar says:

    Hope made a mistake, and she apologized for it, then took all the booing and insult in such a professional way that the Brazilians keep on ignoring, let’s not mention the incredible disrespect towards other players not just in female football but in male football too!! And now, some fans who prefer the other two goalies wish ill to Hope and want her to preform badly so Jill Ellis would let them play!! This is getting out of hand!

    • Danilo says:

      Just checked her social media and after her post there’s no mention to any apologies, just a bit for “fun” with posters about Zika in Kansas City, Brazilians making fun, and her followers not getting the level of her joke nor that Brazilians are joking. Would you mind posting her apology please.

    • Pierre Alexander says:

      Come on guys. Our house our rules. You can’t come here in Brazil and try to change the way we behave while watching a game. This is Latin America, ok? This is not north America or Europe where most people are cold. We aren’t and we’ll keep booing cause that’s the way we do things here.

      • Sahar says:

        I’m not talking about the boos, I’m ok with the boos you’re not the only country that does that, you didn’t create that it’s part of the culture in football in general. I’m talking about the insults, if that’s a normal thing for you, insulting players (not just Hope) then it says a lot about you! I’m not from either north America or Latin America or Europe, I’m from a country that are even more passionate about football then you are, and guess what? When things got out of hands like in Brazil now we were banned to even attend the games!! So what? The players have to be silent and wait for you to attack them too for an action to be taken?? What you are doing is just making other people less interested in watching the Olympics in general because of you Brazilian fans!! You are passionate, sure, but you can also be so rude that it can’t be taken lightly, and you are upset because Hope didn’t apologize even though she did!! Don’t ruin your image as fans in front of other countries because that’s all that you people are doing! We support you as a country, culture, great teams, why ruin that by being disrespectful and rude to the players (ALL OF THEM) why ruin that by insulting the players?! Someone like Hope, she came from nothing and became the best and she might be the best for a VERY long time! Nothing you are doing will change that, nothing you are doing will make her less better! I’m sorry to disappoint you my friend, but her legacy will live forever!!

        • Pierre Alexander says:

          Well, I think you’re mistaken. We have a problem only with Hope Solo. She’s the only one that hear offenses from us, but I’m not sure if “zika” can be considered as an offense. And of course we act that way with Argentine athletes as well because we have a thing between Brazil and Argentina. We don’t like each other at all, so this is only between us. We support Phelps even when a Brazilian is competing against him cause he’s a legend. We love Bolt cause he’s a legend too and Serena Williams, etc. So, I don’t get when you say we’re being disrespectful.

  4. Danilo says:

    It’s must be sad see life through your eyes…

  5. doctorzaius says:

    C’mon, the least you can do is to be honest about that. Solo wasn’t being a genuine “concerned citizen” when she posted about Zika on Instagram – as some American newspapers are now saying. She was mocking the situation and exaggerating it for the sake of fun, with all that beekeeper apparatus. She was having a laugh at Brazil’s expense. Fine.

    Then she came to the Olympics and Brazilians decided to have a laugh back. Its also fine. In fact, it would be awkward not to expect a stadium full of soccer fans not to take some revenge and mock her back.

    She had her laugh, we had ours. Sense of humor is a two-way road. No hard feelings about that.

    • Danilo says:

      Perfect!! Wish I could write English as you, at least they wouldn’t be picking on me to express the same opinion you did but in other words, the only ones I know.

  6. Danilo says:

    Just to be clear; We Brazilians don’t hate Solo!! Solo did a post on her social media where she display her “double-ignorance” by first making a joke with a virus that is affecting mostly children, and 2nd trying to discriminate Rio/Brazil as a 3rd world country because of the Zika when in fact there were more Zika cases last week in Florida than Rio plus there’s zika cases also in her own town in WA. Was a uncalled joke that she never apologized, plus Zika in Brazil also refers to “bad luck”, therefore Brazilians are making a joke when yelling Zika at her, not wishing hate or anything related with the disease, but trying to get on her head and lead to bad luck (karma)…which is clearly working and affecting her (look at the Colombia goal today) despite her comments denying it. Is it a good joke? Perhaps no, but it is a non offensive response to an offensive post she did…a simple apology after that ignorant post would have fit better with the level she belongs, plus would have the crowd on her side. Peace Mr. Journalist, there’s no hate in Brazil vs Hope Solo or any other US athlete. Cheers

    • Danilo says:

      And I’m sorry for my English, I did my best, could have written in Portuguese but would probably be worst than my English level for general comprehension.

    • Sahar says:

      She made a mistake, but then apologized for it and acknowledged her mistake, what you are doing is not a joke, it’s disrespect. A lot of people I know who travelled to Brazil to go to the games, heard a lot of insults thrown at her. And she’s not the only one too, any other team, that isn’t Brazil you start shouting Zika at as if it’s something cool, not just in female football but also male football!! And not to mention what happened with the Australian goalie, who had Brazilian fans shouting homophobic things at her! These are not the only things, there’s so much more then that!! Apparently you don’t know anything from Hope’s side, because she DID apologize!!

      • Danilo says:

        Oh and joking about a disease that affects only children is not a disrespect? The people I know live in Brazil, they are at the games and I believe they are many more than the ones you know that may or may not be inside the Stadiums. As explained in Brazil “Zica” also refers to bad luck, so when you don’t know a language, don’t comment about it. The so called “homophobic” shouting is “bicha” which started as a joke with male GK’s in Brazil after copying Mexican fans that do the same shouting “puto” which is actually worst name but used on the same context, a joke to pressure a mistake from the GK. Clearly you not even don’t know anything about Brazilian and Latino soccer culture, which btw came up a century before soccer even exist in US. About “much more than that”, guess what, many if not all of the other 200 countries in the world have different cultures than yours and perhaps what you believe in your culture, is not the same that we mean in ours. Finally Solo used her social media to make her “joke”, wouldn’t you expect her to apologize there?! Please post the link from her personal social media with her apology. If you didn’t get I’m sorry, but please relax, there is no hate here, at least from us.

        • Sahar says:

          I’m not American, and as far as I know football existed in my country long before your country knew anything about sports, that’s first. Second, I don’t care if you think whatever you are doing is a joke, if it hurts someone’s feelings then it should end! Third, an apology is an apology, whether it’s on her personal social media or not, she acknowledged her mistake and apologized for it, you should at least respect that! The first time she said she feared of going to Rio, you said that the virus wasn’t serious and that there’s no chance of Hope getting infected and that it was nothing, then when she started to “joke” about it, you started insulting her and saying she shouldn’t joke about a virus that infects children and that is dangerous!! You even wished she would get the virus (not you specifically but a lot of you!). I don’t know your culture, but what I know is that these players you were shouting at weren’t just pressuring the players to make mistakes but also hurting them, what are you gaining other then a bad reputation? It’s not gaining you anything good! I know a lot of people that enjoy the Olympics less due to all that you keep on doing that has no point or sense, and isn’t getting you anywhere and won’t get you anywhere!! You are a beautiful country, with a beautiful culture and you know the game well, but what you are doing isn’t a cool “oh look at us we are the country of football” it’s just getting people annoyed. I mean no hate too, I’m just making a point, I hope you understand my point just as much as I understand that you have a right to be upset.

        • Danilo says:

          1. Where are you from? Your country can even have a longer history, but no country in the world is more successful than Brazil, although we’re talking about cultural issues. 2. So based on YOUR cultural standards Solo has hurt 200 million feelings but you probably just forgot this part. 3.Again you are saying she apologized, but you are unable to share the link/source, I wonder why. 4.The first time she said something about Rio, I haven’t said anything, if you are stereotyping me as any Brazilian please tell me where are you from (not where do you live) so I’ll do the same with you. 5. Are you saying that pointing out her bad joke means an insult against her? Is this how it works in your culture? 6. Wished she gets the virus?? What da heck are you talking about girl?? Wishing her bad luck on the game (ZICA in Brazil = Bad Luck) Please refrain to comment something if you just don’t understand what does it means. 7. If you think that we’re hurting her instead of pressuring, your country can have football before mine, but we certainly don’t share the same football culture. 8. If you’re not hating, you’re lunatic or at the best, someone who believe to hold the master key to global truth.

    • ShmuelG says:

      ‘discriminate Rio/Brazil as a 3rd world country”

      What does it even mean?

      • Danilo says:

        Means she was suggesting an exaggerated Zika Control because she was traveling to a 3rd world country, while she could suggest that control when getting outdoors in her city or traveling to Florida that also has Zika if her concern was really protection and not mocking. It’s just like if Olympics was in L.A and one day prior to travel to US Usain Bolt had posted a bullet proof vest with the legend “ready to meet US Police Officers”, would the US crowd cheer him at the stadium? Just a bad joke, and in her case about a disease that affects only children.

        • ShmuelG says:

          The word “discriminate” doesn’t mean what you think it means. Neither are many other words you are using. Perhaps learning English language BEFORE you attempt to comment on English forums would be advisable.

        • Danilo says:

          I am just trying to facilitate since my English level is way better than your Portuguese level. I’m pretty sure you were able to understand the content but thanks for the correction. Let me know if you speak either Portuguese, Spanish, Italian or French because I am fluent in all 4, so perhaps I could express my opinion easily for both. Cheers

  7. Anna says:

    What a GREAT article. Thank you so much. As a woman, I’m sick of the double standard that men can be bad boys yet all the more likeable while women are vilified if they don’t behave exactly as you would like. I wish Hope Solo a life of happiness and respect her athleticism and contribution to the wonderful sport of soccer.

  8. Cc W says:

    Flawed for sure, stupid decisions at times, but I’m sure we’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t but been lucky enough to do them out of the public eye. I don’t agree with some of her actions, but if you look past those things, there are so many examples of her taking time to interact with young fans everywhere to brighten their day. I’m guessing it is because she knows they aren’t judging her. As for her career – she is the best there has ever been. Maybe she shouldn’t have aired her grievance in public about the 2007 WC, but in hindsight, we all know she was right – if she had been in goal – it wouldn’t have been 4-0. Not saying they would have won, but Hope should have been the starter. She’ll likely retire after the Olympics and many will be wishing she hadn’t.

  9. VaFan51 says:

    My opinion of Hope shifted a bit when I read her autobiography. Yeah, I know, it’s not an objective critique, but still it’s illuminating. No, I do not give her a free ride for the mistakes she has made in her life
    She is one of the giants of the sport and is a internationally-known face and personality and her fame raises the profile of the women’s game. She puts people in the seats. Certainly, it is becoming apparent that lots of Brazilians know darned well who she is and may taunt her for her comments about their country, but they also appear to appreciate her strength on the pitch.

    I respect her superb professionalism and skills as a GK and the confidence she instills in her teammates. I have no problem admitting I will miss her mightily when she’s gone.

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