Flying Solo comes with a price

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I have mixed emotions over the six-month suspension and contract termination handed to United States Woman’s Soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo for referring to Sweden as cowards after they eliminated our World Cup champs from the Olympics.

Like most Americans, I do not want to see our national teams represented by a bunch of jerks and yet if we are truly American, we must accept the fact even our jerks have a right to speak freely, even moments after a gut wrenching loss.

On one hand, Solo’s punishment may be long over due given her past run ins with the law, however, what did we expect from an athlete who is not shy about expressing her views on any of a number of topics? Solo should be commended for being one of the leaders who have pointed out the disparity of pay her teammates earn and the poor conditions they put up with compared to the U.S. men who struggle on the international level. Her response after losing to Sweden was more out of anger over the style of play Sweden employed, one designed to settle for penalty kicks and not victory during regulation.

I have played a lot of soccer over the years and nothing is more infuriating than playing a team who sets out a game plan designed to waste 120 minutes of play just to take their chances with penalty kicks. It is why I believe deciding games with penalty kicks is a joke. Reward the team that dominated possession and tried to score goals, rather than a team that packs in their defensive half and plays kick ball. This system of play is the equivalent of the old four corners offense in college basketball which has been done away with thanks to the use of a shot clock.

Still, it is Solo’s actions that trouble me and not the women losing to an inferior team. On one hand, the Olympics are suppose to be about sport bringing people together and not ripping them apart. Her words were counter to the Olympic spirit. However, her words were freely spoken, something not everyone from other nations get to enjoy and should be defended. After all, Hope Solo only uttered what angry U.S. fans were saying at home while watching the game.

Jerks exist in every avenue of life and lets face it, Hope Solo is a jerk on many levels. She has an attitude that suggests she goes through life with her middle finger telling everyone what she thinks and yet despite this, there is not a female soccer player who would not want her between the pipes in a winner take all game. She is light years ahead of her peers.

Solo did not get to this level by being a nice person. She feeds on anger, both hers and ours, and uses it to push her to a level that no one else reaches. There is no kinder, gentler version of Hope Solo without having a much less effective goalkeeper as a team’s last line of defense.

But here is what is really troubling to me, this is all PC driven and nothing else. The USWNT will gladly embrace Hope back into the fold when her suspension is up because they know they are a much better team with her. Do you think people will pay to see two nice talking men or women fight for a UFC title? What does the press love more, a nice bland athlete who says nothing but the company line or one who cuts through the BS and tells us what he or she really thinks? Coaches call it bulletin board material because they want an opponent’s words to be used to help motivate his team to play better.

Why was Charles Barkley the most enjoyable Dream Team player for the media to follow? Was it because he was their best player or because he was the only one who did not toe the company line and in the process made for great quotes?

Hope Solo is no different, however today is far different than 1992 when the Dream Team chewed up opponents like a hungry great white shark at the beach on the Fourth of July.

Imagine if Hope Solo said, “It was sure fun to play Sweden today. Even though we lost, we are all winners because this is the Olympics.”

America sends its best athletes to the Olympics for one reason, win as many gold medals as possible. We still feel the need to show the world we are the greatest nation on the planet whether it be economically, militarily, or athletically.

We have no problem bad mouthing the Chinese when they steal our jobs. We are fine with leaders saying some of the vilest things about nations who hate us. However, an athlete who expresses herself in an honest and unapologetic way is made to pay a price because she made our country look bad.

If we do not want to hear what Hope Solo or other controversial athletes have to say then lets pass laws that restrict media access to them. Oh, wait, that infringes on freedom of the press, doesn’t it? We have no business doing such a thing just as we have no business punishing the best goalkeeper in the world for doing what we loved and hated about old Howard Cosell, telling it like it is.