Guest Post - Alyssa Newswanger
Dealing with minor to serious consequences in the wake of another public scandal is not new territory for U.S. Women’s National Team (“USWNT”) goalkeeper, Hope Solo. However, has an errant comment, after a devastating loss, really become the possible nail in the coffin of her national team career?
Let’s take a quick walk through Solo’s history with the national team and her public incidents that have led to this drastic decision from U.S. Soccer. In 2007, after being replaced by veteran goalie, Briana Scurry, and the U.S. losing that semifinal World Cup game, she made the comment directed at Greg Ryan, the women’s coach at the time, saying, “It was the wrong decision, and I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that. There’s no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves.” The consequences of that comment: she was dismissed from the team, but reinstated by, ironically, Pia Sundhage for the 2008 Olympics. Then in 2008, she appeared on the Today show, after the USWNT won gold in Beijing, intoxicated. Following that, in 2012, she tested positive for a banned steroid, but was cleared of intentional wrongdoing and went on to play in the London Olympics that summer. During that performance, she was reprimanded by Sundhage for a public twitter outburst toward former U.S. star, Brandi Chastain. Chastain had some mild criticism of the USWNT during one of their group stage games, and Solo did not appreciate the negative commentary on their play.
The most controversial incidents Solo has put herself through dealt with the 2014 domestic abuse charges levied against her. This issue slightly tinged the outcome of the USWNT’s historic World Cup win in the summer of 2015, as many public figures spoke out about her inclusion on the team while the case was ongoing. Currently, the case is still ongoing and Solo is due to back in court soon to face the charges again. Also, running up to the 2015 World Cup, Solo’s husband, former NFL player, Jerramy Stevens was arrested for a DUI while Solo was a passenger in the car. U.S. Soccer issued a one month suspension for Solo, as he was arrested while driving a U.S. Soccer van. Coach Jill Ellis stated in an interview, that the suspension came as a result of a “poor decision that resulted in a negative impact on U.S. Soccer and her teammates.”
The icing on the proverbial cake, came this past summer as Solo stirred up controversy before even arriving in Brazil, by posting a photo to Twitter of her supposed Zika protection. This caused hearty boos and chants against her every time the ball even remotely came close to her during the games. Her comments after the U.S.’s stunning lose to Sweden seemed to put U.S. Soccer over the edge on what they could handle, PR-wise, with Solo. In response to the very defensive strategy from Sundhage’s Swedish team, Hope stated after the game, “I thought that we played a courageous game. But I also think we played a bunch of cowards. The best team did not win today.” From this point, Solo was then dismissed from the USWNT, her contract with U.S. Soccer was terminated, and she has resigned from her National Women’s Soccer League team, the Seattle Reign, for the remainder of the season.
It is an interesting turn of events, as this is the incident that U.S. Soccer has chosen to use at its catalyst in terminating Solo’s contract. Not the domestic abuse charges. Not the use of a U.S. Soccer vehicle in a DUI, but, instead, a comment after a tough emotional loss. Many news outlets and proponents of this termination of Solo, along with U.S. Soccer President, Sunil Gulati, believe this is justified as her offensives have simply piled up for the last ten years. However, the timing of the termination is what many other individuals find interesting in this case. The next major women’s tournament will not take place for another three years. This will give Jill Ellis adequate time to find and train a replacement for, without a doubt, the greatest women’s goalkeeper in history. That does make one think about why the previous suspensions, or lack of permanent termination didn’t happen sooner. If one looks back at the incidents in Hope’s past, it is easy to see that most preceded a prestigious tournament, i.e. World Cup or Olympics. When you’re goal is selling tickets and building a fan base that will, hopefully, support the women’s professional league, then you have to win games. As the past decade has shown us, USWNT wins games when Solo is in goal. So, was Hope Solo’s contract termination an appropriate punishment for the comment she made, probably not, but she is a member of U.S. Soccer and they have a standard they expect their players to adhere too. Most Olympic athletes will have signed contractual agreements to uphold those standards and represent the U.S. in a positive light. This gave the organization the out they were, undoubtedly, looking for after the Olympics as Solo’s domestic abuse case was set to continue on.
Solo’s attorney, and USWNT player’s union counsel, Rich Nichols will be representing her throughout her appeal of the termination, and from the most recent comments made, they will be making the case that it violates her first amendment rights. This argument is unlikely to be successful, as she is a private citizen and the U.S. Soccer Federation is NOT a federal agency or state actor. With the basis of the First Amendment grounded in the protection from restricting a private citizen’s freedom of speech from the government, it wouldn’t apply in this circumstance. Solo has also made claims, recently, that the termination is in retaliation for her work with the union and other USWNT members in their fight for pay equality between men and women’s soccer. Nichols is also representing the player’s union, as whole, in their fight for pay equality. Over the past year, many members of the USWNT has been very outspoken about the disparity in pay for the men and women’s national team, in that, the men’s team appear to receive substantially more in compensation for performing at a much less successful level than the women’s team. It will be a tough sell for Solo, on either claim, but they will give her a starting point in her appeal process. Sitting back, we will have to watch this fight unfold over the next six months. U.S. Soccer is unlikely to budge on its decision, and Solo, as we have seen so much throughout her career, is one of the most passionate and stubborn players, which leads us to a clash of the an unstoppable force and an immovable object.