The Rio Olympics brought us some of the most amazing athletic spectacles in the world. It also brought a disappointing quarterfinal loss for the reigning Olympic and World Cup champions, the US women’s soccer team. After Sweden beat the US in penalty kicks to advance, US goalkeeper Hope Solo had some choice words for Sweden and its head coach, Pia Sundhage, who is the former US head coach.
“We played a bunch of cowards. The best team did not win today. I strongly, firmly believe that,” Solo said in a press conference after the loss. She did not stop there though, going on to explain that she thought Sweden played a very defensive game with little creativity and that made for undesirable and uninteresting soccer.
For her conduct, the goalkeeper had her contract with the national team terminated and will serve a six-month suspension. Since, she has said that she will not finish the season with her club team, the Seattle Reign.
Many people have cried foul at the punishment Solo has received for comments that were fairly tame in comparison to other conduct issues she’s had. However, it is not sexism that will keep her off the pitch for the remainder of 2016. Instead, it is the US Soccer Federation and its standards for player conduct.
The year that Hope Solo became synonymous with controversy was 2007, when head coach Greg Ryan started Briana Scurry over Solo in the semifinal of the World Cup. After a 4-0 defeat by the Brazilians, Solo publicly bashed Scurry and Ryan to the press. From then on she became known for her bluntness, brashness and arrogance. While she did not serve a formal suspension, her teammates essentially suspended her from the third place game, not allowing her to attend the game, eat meals with the team or participate in any team activities.
US Soccer has enacted many suspensions and fines like this in order to maintain order, particularly in MLS and national team games. In 2008, Abel Xavier, a defender for the LA Galaxy, was fined $1,600 and served a one-game suspension for excessive dissent and publicly criticizing officiating.
Two years ago, Solo was again at the center of a controversy when she was arrested for two counts of domestic violence involving her sister and nephew. At the same time, she and her husband were still under investigation for driving a US Soccer team van while under the influence of alcohol. Solo was banned for 30 days, but it was unclear for which incident she served the suspension.
A year later, Clint Dempsey, the captain of the US men’s national team, was issued a red card while playing for the Seattle Sounders for ripping up a referee’s notebook and throwing it at him. Dempsey was given a three-game suspension, which ended up being about the same amount of time Solo served for her off-the-field indiscretions in 2014.
And now here we are, in 2016, with Solo’s national team contract terminated and her stepping down from club play, all because of her comments to the press.
The point of all this: US Soccer has a history of holding players accountable for their actions—both on and off the field. While it is easy to cry sexism and point to the NFL or the MLB as examples of how male athletes don’t get their contracts terminated when they do much worse than talk trash about an opponent [I’m looking at you, Ray Rice and Chuck Knoblauch], history suggests that US Soccer is committed to making sure that players represent their country, their team and their sport in a way that is admirable, regardless of a player’s gender.
The fact remains that Solo has represented the United States for a decade-and-a-half and has proven time and time again why she is considered the best goalkeeper in the world. However, she has also proven time and time again that in the face of adversity, she acts with neither tact nor graciousness. The US women’s soccer team doesn’t lose very often, and that makes how they act when they do lose all the more important.
Solo did not have her contract terminated because of the comments she made about Sweden, just like how her contract was not terminated any of the other times she was surrounded by controversy. Her words after Rio were the straw that broke the camel’s back, and she now has to ride that camel into the distance as the sun sets on her career.