Sunday, September 30, 2007

When Sports Imitates Life

Everyone was shocked. The US Women's Soccer Team was blanked by Brazil, 4-0 in the playoffs at World Cup. During the game the coach made a controversial decision and benched Hope Solo, the goalkeeper. The player he put in had played in many international high profile games. But the shock wasn't over. After the game, player-turned-coach Solo went in front of the press and not only criticized the coach's decision, but allegedly disparaged her replacement.

A few days ago, at a team meeting, it was decided that Hope would not attend or play in the rest of the World Cup series. She posted an apology "of sorts" on her web page according to newspaper articles, but it wasn't enough to convince her team that she should return.

On the day after all this happened, my initial reaction was that Hope was way out of line. Publicly criticizing a coach - and certainly a teammate - undermines the coaching staff and player morale. I even penned a post about it. But then I read a few more articles online about the coach's decision and what the player said and decided to delete the post because I had other topics to post about and couldn't take the time to read enough that was out there.

My take on this today however is about how the media used Hope Solo. Her interview was great press. It was sensationalized. It gave people someone to blame for the loss. And, let's face it, it falls into media coverage of events that seems to more closely resemble Entertainment Tonight than sports events. Soap opera.

But anyone who plays sports knows that a player who criticizes a coach publicly isn't going to be playing for that coach much longer. And criticizing team mates just puts the icing on the cake. Hope Solo forgot this. Perhaps she bought into the hype of the moment created by the media so much that she actually believed it was her place to take the microphone after the game was lost and make it about her being replaced in the game.

But when the camera lights went off, the bottom line was that Hope Solo was just another player on the team. She's not the coach. And now she's not a player. She's only in the news because the same media that built her up now reports that she's banned from playing at the game.

When I was a camp counselor years ago, the newspaper came to interview one of our teen counselors about the camp. The reporter asked questions not only about the camp but about the counselor's social life. In an attempt to look cool, the counselor talked about some wild aspects of her social life. The subsequent article contained information that was embarrassing to the camp and the counselor. I remember the fallout. The young lady almost lost her job, received a tongue lashing from the camp director and her parents, and spent months holding her head down. She couldn't do anything about what was out there, in print. They got their story.

As hard as that experience was about personal accountability, the coverage wasn't as broad was that which Hope Solo received. Hope's lesson will be much harder. And, although it may not seem fair, her fall will also be harder.

Because , just as in life, what you say to the media as a sports figure can't be taken back.

Meanwhile, the US team went on to win their final game and take third place in the World Cup. Each player received a $10,000 bonus.

[visual description: Hope Solo, with her hands on her head, is shown seated on the right with a teammate.}
[for an article and a video showing Hope's statements to the press, click above]


Elizabeth McClung said...

Interesting story - I am not sure about the connection to "public face" of groups and sports since to me the rows of disclaimers I have to read every time I watch a video is slightly redundant - Does anyone think Ben Stiller in a gag reel really respresents the opinions of studio executives?

But as to a sports team, I have less compassion - You don't like the coach then you a) confront the coach or b) leave the team - to disrespect another teammate and coach after a game because a person thought, "If I had played, we would have won" is just ego run wild. Of course, ironically it is this exact type of ego which is not only rewarded but courted by media and sports recruiters/sports teams alike. How many times had someone in a position of authority told Hope that "you are the best!" - and now she is punished for believing it. Of course that is why when a Roman got a triumph, there was a person on the chariot whispering in his ear "Glory fades, all fades, all is grass." - because the Romans appear a bit smarter than we are today - the realize some who have natural talent combined with unnatural ambition don't have an inner voice to warn them of appropriatness and perspective.

Ruth said...

Thanks for your comment. You really hit the mark on this one - I agree that as to athletes behaving badly, some of it is the result of the fact that those around them feed their egos ( to get them to perform ) and there is no balance to help them stay grounded or learn about personal accountability.