By Mark Esposito, Weekend Guy
With the pivotal World Cup game of the Americans versus Portugal just a day away, sports fans were greeted yesterday with sad news about one of America’s finest players. Olympian Hope Solo was arrested on domestic violence and assault charges at her sister’s home in Seattle. Solo who is a heralded goalie is much more than that. She’s a bona fide star in a sport sorely in need of one. While soccer enjoys a world-wide popularity, its reception in the U.S. has been … well … muted. Lacking the violent collisions of football (for the most part) and the non-stop artistry of professional basketball, American males have routinely turned up their noses at what some call derisively “Communist kickball.” Add that to this year’s controversial move of leaving the greatest American male soccer star off the U.S. team and you have a sport that only an advancement to the final round of the World Cup playoffs could whet the public’s appetite the way American football does.
Solo earned her star power following her brilliant but controversial Olympic performance. In 2005, she became the Americans starting goalie and recorded 7 shutout in 7 matches. In 2007 at the women’s World Cup, while facing the best he world had to offer, she allowed just two goals in four games while recording 3 consecutive shutouts. No mean feat when you patrol a goal net about half the size of New Jersey. When she was benched in the semi-final game against Brazil for a reputed attitude problem, Brazil blew out the U.S. team 4-0. Solo was not the strong silent type castigating her coach and her replacement for the move and earning the ire of her more team-oriented teammates. Solo rebounded from that controversy and helped the U.S. win gold in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics solidifying her as a top — if not the top — goalie in the world. She also played professionally for several teams and is now starting for the Seattle Reign of the National Women’s Soccer League.
Her personal life is far less brilliant than her playing career. Raised in a single parent home, Hope was allegedly kidnapped along with her brother by her father at age seven. Solo was able to re-connect with her father later in life and developed a close bond that was cut short when he died unexpectedly of heart failure in 2007. A hard partier, Solo has admitted appearing drunk on national T.V. and had one prior bizarre altercation involving the police and booze. In 2012, just hours before her wedding to NFL player Jerramy Stevens, police were called to a domestic disturbance finding several drunk party-goers and Solo injured. A stun gun was also recovered. A judge determined there was insufficient evidence to charge her fiance’ but the pattern was set.
Early yesterday morning, police were again called to a party that Hope Solo (now Stevens) attended. Thrown by her sister, booze apparently flowed Hope’s way and then things got out of hand. In a wild 911 call, a male called for help contending that Solo was intoxicated and would not stop “hitting people” or leave the house. Arriving on the scene, police found an apparently drunken soccer star and injuries to her sister and her 17-year-old nephew. All allegedly at the hands of Solo. According to the investigative report, Solo was the “primary aggressor and had instigated the assault.” Not the typical behavior you’d expect from a 32-year-old wealthy sports icon.
Solo is being held without bond in a Seattle jail. Her story is sadly reminiscent of so many sports “heroes” fed a diet of adulation, fame, money, and booze. A talent like hers comes once in a generation and it’s a peculiar trait of the human condition that sometimes the recipient is overwhelmed by the embarrassment of riches. I’ve long contended that, for some, talent is a curse. It separates the holder from his fellows and despite the congratulations and “atta-boys,” there is always that undercurrent of resentment even envy. It’s not limited to just teammates or acquaintances either. Family can be just as envious or hurtful. Compounding that, it takes an incredibly firm family foundation to withstand the pressure of fame and not to get caught up in the whirlwind of praise, cash, and false friends looking to fleece you. It’s doubly tough for female athletes who bear the burden of being stellar while looking sexy doing it. A peculiar requirement not placed on the fame of male athletes. Solo is hopefully learning those lessons now. She surely needs help. Maybe substance abuse, maybe emotional restorative counseling, but regardless of the vehicle, she needs to get on the wagon and move forward.
Here’s one hoping she does. We’ve seen enough sports train wrecks fueled by too much alcohol or drugs or just plain fame. Baseball, cycling, football and basketball all have their tragedies of athletes dying young or squandering their talent in some insatiable race to feel better about themselves. The irony is palpable — and very sad.
~Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor