Joy and Unease in the Canyon of Heroes

By Paul Schwedelson, Contributing Writer

Police officers waved to the crowds behind the barricades urging them to make more noise. Young girls began chants of “U-S-A!” in which everyone else joined in. Toilet paper, the digital age’s replacement for ticker tape, rained from office building windows along Broadway’s Canyon of Heroes.

It was inspirational to think that any kid, regardless of gender, could become a nationally celebrated athlete because of their accomplishments on the field — there was a point in time when women didn’t have that opportunity. Unlike many years ago, every young soccer player in the crowd could have a legitimate, attainable dream — not just a pipedream.

Times have changed, and the US women’s national team’s parade in New York City on Friday was one of the best examples of that, at least that I’ve experienced in person.

Sports are a part of culture and on Friday, I witnessed how a generation of young girls were inspired by the 2015 team — a team with many players who were similarly inspired by the ‘99ers when they were growing up.

As players went by on floats, I gave my mom a little background on them. She loved Christie Rampone because she could relate to a 40-year-old with four kids. She smiled when Alex Morgan went by because I reminded her I have Morgan’s poster in my room. She laughed when Tobin Heath passed us because I said, “That’s the one I have a crush on.”

But of course, it wouldn’t just be that simple.

When Hope Solo went by, both my mom and I cringed — I mentioned the domestic violence incident.

I wasn’t really thinking much about Solo up until that point and frankly, I really didn’t want to on a day that was meant for celebrating champions.

But as she waved to the crowd wearing an FDNY baseball cap, the most relevant background info I could share with my mom was about that time she was accused of beating up her half-sister and 17-year-old nephew.

No one wants to talk about it, but if we’re going to talk about these players’ roles in society, we should talk about hers, too.

Legally, Solo is still innocent (the case was dismissed in January due to procedural issues and the appeal process is still ongoing) and I’m all for letting her play for the national team, because, you know, the whole innocent until proven guilty thing.

Before I continue though, I want to say I’ve never met Hope Solo. I have no clue what she’s actually like. I don’t know what actually happened on June 21, 2014 in that suburban Seattle home (Solo said she was the victim, not the perpetrator).

Solo was awarded the Golden Glove, given to the tournament’s best goalie. But while we give praise for her on-field performance, let’s also be cognizant of the things that she’s done. This is by no means to say that Solo is a terrible person. I’m just going to detail some of the poor choices she’s made and hopefully, this ends up being a positive learning experience for all.

According to a police report obtained by ESPN, Solo’s half-sister had a “swollen left cheekbone that was already starting to get a purplish hue,” which made it “difficult to eat and swallow due to the pain,” following the assault.

“(Solo) immediately grabbed his (Solo’s nephew’s) hair pulled his head down and started punching him in the face repeatedly,” the police report said.

While being handcuffed, Solo yelled at an officer, “You’re such a b*tch,” the report said. “You’re scared of me because you know that if the handcuffs were off, I’d kick your ass.”

Solo was charged with two counts of fourth-degree domestic violence. Regardless of whether she attacked first or second, her actions were unacceptable.

But Solo’s history of poor choices runs deeper.

In 2007, Solo was sent home from the World Cup after she bashed head coach Greg Ryan for benching her prior to a 4-0 semifinal loss to Brazil. In a postgame interview, Solo said she would have made every save that her replacement, Briana Scurry, didn’t.

Perhaps more revealing though is when Solo was called in to meet with the team’s veterans and explain herself in their hotel later that night, she cited her confidence as a professional athlete before apologizing to Scurry.

So much of being a great player is how you deal with teammates. In 2007, Solo was far from exemplary.

In 2012, Brandi Chastain, a member of the 1999 World Cup championship team, criticized the American defense.

Solo responded with an angry tweet.

In the digital age, sending nasty, confrontational tweets is just about the last thing I want our society’s role models to be doing.

All in all, there’s a lot to learn from this. As much as we can learn from the good in people, we can also learn from the bad. I’ve never met Solo. I can’t tell you anything about what she’s like as a person. Whether she’s innocent or guilty, I couldn’t tell you that either.

Solo is a world-class goalkeeper, but there’s more to her than just what’s on the field.

So after the games and the parade and her career is over, do these young girls — the leaders of the Friday’s loudest chants — still want to be like Hope Solo?

Schwed is a contributing writer for “Purely For Sport,” where his column rarely appears. Surprisingly, he has never tasted Ben & Jerry’s Schweddy Balls ice cream, though he would like to. He shaves his beard four times a day. He likes to laugh but only at things that aren’t funny. He is not a fan of turducken, although he has never tasted it, and he tends to fall asleep while watching feature-length films. He has a crush on Tobin Heath. Paul prefers creamy peanut butter. | @pschweds


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