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.

paulschwedelson@gmail.com | @pschweds

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Soccer and American Culture

Last Thursday I returned from a 10-day trip around the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Other than the ancient, Mayan ruins and the beautiful, sandy beaches I got caught up in only one thing: the World Cup. It was everywhere.

A village square in a town slightly north of five thousand was ghostly empty when we rolled into town. The cause? Chile was battling Spain, the reigning Cup champs. (Chile upset the Spaniards 2-nil.)

Towns shut-down and waiters at restaurants would deliver food and then watch for five minutes; okay, you probably get it: Mexico likes soccer.

“Soccer sucks! It’s so boring! Why would I want to watch 90 minutes of something when no one may ever win?!” – The part about watching 90 minutes and ending in a ‘draw’ still bothers me (especially nil-nil ones), but I’ve really begun to realize how great of a sport soccer is. Before I left for Mexico, if I told anyone, the only advice I would get is, “Don’t drink the water!” Thankfully, I didn’t come back with any water-borne toxins, but I did come back with an itch for soccer.

It takes teamwork, strategy, and makes nearly everyone around the world pause to watch. Even if you don’t appreciate the sport itself, the global fascination with soccer is remarkable.

Speaking from my experience in Mexico as well as in high school, soccer is on the rise. My friends like the NBA, MLB, NHL, and NFL – like “normal” American teenagers – but this World Cup has drawn all of us to the television for games that didn’t feature the United States.  Both fandom and participation are up. The United States High School Soccer Federation recently reported a 7.4% increase in youth soccer participation from 2008 to 2013. This may be because many parents are, at the recent concussive revelations, pulling their kids out of American football and giving them a new fall sport. Many teens also find baseball’s pace boring, which leaves one outdoor, mainstream sport: soccer.

Not only that, but the United States is, on a global scale, enjoying an unusual benefit of playing in the World Cup: underdog status. The underdogs are always fun to root for and they make victories more exciting (see: U.S. over Russia in “Miracle on Ice”). So even though the United States has 100 million more citizens than the second-largest country participating in the World Cup, they are at a disadvantage.

For tomorrow’s Round of 16 match against Belgium they are only spotted a 26% chance of winning, according to the Bloomberg sports bureau. The small chance of winning is contrasted with the fact that the United States has nearly 5-times the amount youth in the country than Belgium has total citizens.

Soccer Participation

Even though I’ve made plans with friends to watch and even though viewership for USA-Germany reached record numbers, some aren’t ready to accept soccer into American culture. This Ann Coulter piece is a prime example. Please read it. (Her saying soccer is “Un-American” because it’s collectivist is just like saying football is “Un-American” because a Quarterback can’t succeed on his own – he needs his offensive line.)

Her point about individual achievement not factoring into a soccer match clearly didn’t watch Guillermo Ochoa’s standing-O worthy performance against Brazil for his home country of Mexico. (Alas, my example points to a game that ended in a 0-0 draw. Nothing is perfect.)

Some also might say that soccer, the sport itself, isn’t becoming mainstream in the United States and that, rather it’s the World Cup. They may have a point, but it says something that talents like Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey hail from the MLS. (“What?! THE MLS?! That terrible American league?”) Bradley plays for Toronto FC while Dempsey runs the pitch for the Seattle Sounders and the pair of them helped the US compete with teams like Portugal who has players in the upper echelons of La Liga. Not only that, including this year, Fútbol at Fenway (hosted by Liverpool, Red Sox joint owner John Henry) has sold out three consecutive years. Soccer, yes the whole sport, may be gaining traction here in the states.

It may take some getting used to, but Ann Coulter & Co. should prepare for their worst nightmares.

 

Sam Fortier is a Freshman at Syracuse University where he studies broadcast journalism. He also searched endlessly for a “Chicharito” jersey while he was in Mexico. 

The Name on the Front: U.S. Youth Soccer

Academy and High School soccer in the United States seems to be headed toward a stormy confrontation. Soccer clubs have academy systems, which run for 10 months of the year, practicing four days per week and playing once on the weekends. Academy is to soccer as AAU is to basketball – it’s a business and extreme travel team. These soccer clubs are relatively new to the U.S. system, but have been systematically manufacturing elite talent in other countries, such as fútbol-crazed Spain and Brazil.

Clubs have premiere teams which, at that level are highly-demanding and exclusive. The main struggle between the Academy and High School systems are that they force players to pick between them. You can only play for one. There are arguments on both sides, Academy promises tougher competition, which means greater improvement, and more college scouts; a way to get an education at a reduced financial burden. High School offers different advantages such as representing one’s school, or playing with friends.

However, both are locked in a battle for commitments from the best players to join their teams. Coe-Brown feels the effects as well. Coach of the Boys Varsity squad, Mr. Gompert, explains, “Academy soccer is a business” and therefore may place the development of soccer skills above the development of character for young men. “Ensuring a player leaves the program having a good experience, playing with friends and developing an appreciation for the game of soccer is most important,” Gompert elaborates.

However, development is just what some students at Coe-Brown are looking for. Keith Hill, a Senior, and Zac Cote, a Sophomore, both attested to the difficulty involved in the decision to pick where they played. Hill, as the older of the pair, focused in on an issue central to seniors by citing, “[The decision] came down to which would give me a better opportunity to get into college.” He chose Seacoast because of the longer season and tougher competition.  Cote offers agreement and laments with some complaints from the high school side saying, “I wish Academy wasn’t a 10 month season” and confirmed his decision to play Coe-Brown soccer last season was because of friends. He did express more enthusiasm however when he mentioned his perpetual improvement and how difficult training sessions were. Both remarked that they believe Seacoast is worth the commitment.

Coe-Brown is just a microcosm of the major issue occurring in the United States, it represents the overarching conflict between the two sides.

So while the name on the back of the jersey will always remain the same, the team on the front could change quite a bit in the near future.