01 October 2007

You've gotta have Hope, Musn't Sit Around and Mope

One of my co-writers is, if I'm lucky, handling the debrief today. So I want to turn my attention to the US Women's National Team story. I've waited until now for a few reasons. First, many others have been giving their opinion, and they are worth reading. Special call outs to Andrea Canales, Dan Loney, and I-66 who had the opinions right from the very beginning. Second, I wanted to wait until the tournament was over before I said a few things. Which is really what I hope the members of the US Women's team will do.

I think the first thing that must be said is that it is utterly ridiculous the way this story has been allowed to turn. Hope Solo is the one person who had nothing, NOTHING, to do with the US Women's loss to Brazil, so I suppose it is natural that U.S. Soccer and the rest of the Women's team is scapegoating her for the troubles. Ridiculous. On Solo, yes, it was impolitic for her to say some things about Scurry, but was she wrong? If you have a top keeper, don't you want them to believe that they can get to every ball, and make every save? That's certainly the mindset I would want my keeper in. So I have no problem with her comments at all, and like many I have more problems with her apology than her initial statements. You know things are a bit screwed up when the PTI crew on ESPN have the right sentiments.

For Greg Ryan to claim his mistake was not using Scurry soon enough is also utterly pathetic:

``My mistake was not leaving them more in a dual starting role from an earlier period of time,'' Ryan said Saturday. ``I think we needed two kinds of goal keepers in this World Cup.''

Apparently what Ryan is saying is that he wasn't happy with the two clean sheets that Solo handed to him, and that Brianna Scurry would have had Wambach's stitches done and the bleeding stopped in the North Korea game.

What's shocking is that I don't think anyone reading this blog disagrees with any of these statements. Everyone, but everyone, knows that Ryan is the one who screwed up. Well, everyone but the establishment. When there is such a divide between popular opinion and the feelings of the machine, one of two things is most likely true: Either they understand the process a whole lot better than the rest of us, or they are walled off from reality in a dangerous way. The latter looks to be the case in this situation. The masses are right, and we should have pitchforks right about now.

There's also one word that is floating around that no one has used, but I think should be brought up right about now, and that word is Patriarchy. I probably can't do as good a job explaining this as some people might, but there does seem something rather sexist about the entire ordeal. This article shows the way in which the male power structure as US Soccer was early on attempting to control the message:

We were busy getting a clip from Abby Wambach when I saw Hope Solo, clearly upset, walking by. I said quietly, "Hope, do you want to comment?" The press person for the U.S., Aaron Heifetz, said out loud to me, "She didn't play, you only want to talk to people who played the game." Hope spun on her heels when she heard Heifetz say that and said, "No, I want to talk!" This is after she had walked by ESPN and other crews waiting to get clips. We were the first crew to interview her, and the first thing she said is that it was the wrong decision not to put her in net, and that she would have stopped those shots. Also, she said, the only people who would have made that decision, didn't understand the game of soccer. A stunning announcement from her, and clearly something the press person didn't want her to say. She went on to say she didn't understand the decision, that this was 2007, not 2004 (a reference to Scurry's performance in the Olympic final in 2004) and that she was terribly upset by the decision to keep her on the sidelines.

She was honest, fair, and to the point, and in my opinion, quite brave to even do the interview when she was clearly devastated at the team's result. Even more interestingly, as she walked away from the interview, she again spun on her heels and said to Heifetz: "Don't you ever tell me what interviews I can do."

Then we attempted to talk to goalkeeper Briana Scurry about the game. The same PR person who told us we can only talk to players who actually played the game, refused to let Scurry stop to talk to us. I called out to Scurry to ask her to talk and she pointed to Heifetz and said, "He's the boss." I told her she was her own boss and Hope was willing to talk to us. Scurry shook her head, and walked away.

Heifetz, who may be played by Rainn Wilson in the movie, was doing his job trying to control the message on behalf of the power structure of US Soccer, a traditionally male power structure. Solo spoke truth to power, and for that she had to be punished. Of course, once the event had happened, you can expect a bunch of snide, yet telling, comments to follow:

A male colleague reported that some of his emails have consisted of "You're sympathizing with a backstabbing harpy because she's cute."

Interestingly, my wife voiced a similar opinion along those lines. To be cute is one thing, to be correct is another, but to be both is intolerable. And naturally the rest of the women's team turns on Solo. Why? To defend a man who sold them out, who doesn't deserve their support. They're upset at Solo for betraying one of their own, without realizing that Coach Ryan had already betrayed them all. He had one job to do: Put the best team out there with a chance to win, and he failed. Not only that, he failed repeatedly. The 4-3-3 was always a problem, and our midfield suffered because of it. But he didn't change that. Why do they rally around him? Why do they continue to ostracize the person who had the guts to call it like it was? I don't know. Some if it may be the fact that they know the field players are also to blame, and Solo takes attention away from them. But more of it seems to be a power dynamic based opinion.

We have to ask ourselves what this situation would be like if the team gender was different. What if Bob Bradley had, in a knock-out game, replaced Tim Howard with Tony Meola because Tony had a great performance against Brazil back in the day. And if Howard had called out Bradley, do you think the rest of the players would instantly ostracize Tim Howard? I don't. I think you might hear comments along the lines of "that wasn't the way to handle the situation" from the players, but there wouldn't be a rush to send Howard to the hinterlands of soccer. The team probably wouldn't decide he couldn't be on the team plane. No, part of this at least is an issue of gender. Some people don't like the idea that the mild mannered delicate flowers of womanhood might have controversial opinions, and therefore they must be silenced. What's worse is how many women who I normally respect (*Cough*Julie Foudy*Cough*) are enabling this opinion. It's self-sabotage of the highest order.

All I know is that in two years, if Hope Solo is looking for a team, I hope the Washington Freedom can make her an offer worth listening to, and I hope our fans support the one person who played in the 2007 Women's World Cup and never lost us a game. I mean, Solo and Kati Jo Spisak would be a pretty good one-two keeping combo. Perhaps good enough to even rotate between keepers with.



At 01 October, 2007 10:10, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is my first post on your excellent website. Nice piece Mr. D.

And it's unfortunate that my first post has to waste time in mentioning the wretched name of Foudy. Your comments about her were straight on. She has no intelligence about the sport of soccer and will have no positive legacy from the majority of U.S. fans.

Hope Solo was a breath of candid and honest air who did not bash Scurry.

At this point the solution to all of this is Abby never being called into camp again, Lilly retiring without honors, Coach Ryan being fired and Sunil Gulati doing the right thing and resigning.

At 01 October, 2007 10:49, Blogger Kinney said...

I disagree with Mr. Heston about Foudy. She does know soccer very well and will have a great legacy for most US fans, which is why her comments are so disappointing. She was dead on eviscerating Ryan during the game, the problem came afterward when she let friendships get in the way of analysis.

At 01 October, 2007 10:49, Blogger Longshoe said...

Thanks for adding to the chorus of common sense, D. Unfortunately, I don't think it's being heard just yet.

The whole situation has been a joke. The change itself, the switch in how Solo's comments were taken (from a rip at Ryan in the initial aftermath to a rip at Scurry later in the day), and the sorority girl aspect of how Solo has been punished.

It's a shame. The USWNT should be expected to win every tournament, but they seem satisfied with a 3rd place finish because of this. Ryan should be seen as a failure, and he should be replaced for next year's Olympics.

At 01 October, 2007 11:33, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Foudy does understand the game on some level, but she displayed a rank lack of professionalism by rushing to to feed on the carcass of Solo's tournament with the rest of the "Golden Girls" clique.

Great post D.

At 01 October, 2007 11:36, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The trouble with Solo's comments is that it distracts attention from just how shitty a coach Ryan is (doesn't he look and sound and act like that PE teacher who made your tenth grade hell?).

Instead of people debating how lousy a coach Ryan is, the debate is whether Solo should or shouldn't have mouthed off.

Good thing dynamics like this aren't used for political gain in other arenas.

At 01 October, 2007 12:28, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remember when Bob Bradley, Landon Donovan and Jimmy Conrad didn't hold a press conference to throw Heath Pearce off the national team after Pearce said he thought he was the team's best choice at left back? I miss those days.

At 01 October, 2007 13:02, Blogger DCSportsChick said...

Great thought-provoking analysis. Couldn't agree more.

At 01 October, 2007 13:35, Blogger Oscar M. said...

I found this post by Mark Levinstein over at ussoccerplayers.com fascinating for the insights into Coach Ryan's tenure:

Ryan And The Fed

At 01 October, 2007 15:46, Blogger Kali said...

I'm honestly horrified by this whole thing.

And Greg Ryan is like a cross between Simon Cowell and Paulie Walnuts. If I have to see him one more time on my TV screen, seriously...

At 01 October, 2007 15:53, Blogger Bob said...

Tony Meola? Now you're just being ridiculous. At the moment he's too busy with my refi to replace Howard.

At 01 October, 2007 20:44, Blogger Unknown said...

I very much like your analysis in general D, but I think you're off-base on this one. I think Goff got this one right:

The players rallied around Hope Solo when she let in a soft goal against North Korea. They didn't sell her out. Brianna Scurry didn't storm by reporters and say that she could have stopped that goal.

But here, Solo turns on her teammate. I don't think it's so much that she threw Ryan under the bus, but she also tossed under Brianna Scurry who is as much a victim of Ryan's poor choice as anyone.

Ryan messed up, but Solo was out of line. And your line on the PR person is also off-base. Why did the PR guy not want Solo to talk to the press? Well, first of all, he may have been trying to protect Solo from pesky reporters. Second, he was afraid she was going to say something bad. Like, oh, what she said. The tactic may have backfired, but it's hardly patriarchy.

You can say USSF is wrong in the "team first" mantra that Solo got punished for violating, but it's that same mantra that got us the legendary 1999 Nike ad about two fillings. So it works both ways.

At 02 October, 2007 10:25, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Sean about the PR person. He was just trying to protect Solo.

She shouldn't have talked while the emotions were still strong. Should she have called out Ryan? Definitely, but no team member should ever call out another team member. Need I bring TO into the discussion? A team can not survive that type of internal fighting.

About everything else, I agree with D. And I am seeing a lot of sexism in the reporting of the whole cup, even in Goff's reporting. There was a statement in his report of the consolation match where he talked about players sharing a group cuddle on the bench. Cuddle?!?!? Seriously?!?!? These are professional athletes. Some of whom are older than I am. Let's not describe them like they are 10 year old girls.

At 02 October, 2007 15:07, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, guys, Hope Solo made it pretty clear that yes, she DID want to talk to that reporter.

Do you not see the sexism in saying that the PR guy was "just trying to protect her" from doing something that supposedly she didn't really want to do, even though she herself SAID she wanted to?

Those little women, too dumb to know what's good for 'em, eh?

At 02 October, 2007 15:13, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, did she seriously get kicked off the team plane? Because that's just all kinds of screwed up. Seriously, what did they do, strand her? Make her buy her own plane ticket home?

At 02 October, 2007 16:28, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am not saying that Hope didn't have every right to talk to the reporter. All I am saying is that the PR person was doing his/her job.

She decided to ignore the advice and talk anyways and now must suffer the results.

I can't think of any sport where team chemistry is more important than soccer, and saying negative things about a teammate can not be tolerated. She should have calmed down, thought about what she wanted to say and then talked to a reporter about Ryan and only Ryan. The team would have supported her.

At 02 October, 2007 17:02, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeremy, I'm not entirely sure that what the PR person did WAS within the bounds of his job. It would be easy for me to assume so since I have zero experience with sports journalism (other than reading the paper). But, I just did a lot of reading of various commentary surrounding this mess and at least two journalists were appalled at what he did and considered it very in appropriate and bordering on unethical. One was the woman from CBC who got the quote in the first place, and the other was - I'm sorry, I don't remember his name, and I don't have time to chase it down just now, but I found his commentary somewhere in links from the links in this post. If you have some experience in sports journalism that I don't have I will gladly defer to that, of course, but given that two journalists objected to the PR guy's actions... journalists tend to be sticklers for the ethics of their profession and so I find that compelling.

I think the people who are pointing out that there is a double standard are correct. Male athletes do this sort of thing all the time, and people recognize that yes it may be inappropriate or over the top and they are criticized for it, yes - but when does a top male athlete EVER, EVER get kicked off his team for anything other than flagrant lawbreaking? Even sometimes in the face of flagrant lawbreaking they don't get kicked off. You simply cannot argue that there is precedent for this in the sports world, because there really isn't.

All this serves to move the spotlight away from where it really belongs, which is squarely on Greg Ryan. He's the coach; he's in charge of the team. He made a dubious tactical decision that turned out really badly for the team and screwed up team unity and his job as coach was to deal with that in-house, in a way that didn't cause all this to blow up in the media and didn't cause a major rift in the team... he failed. He didn't only fail tactically, but he failed to keep his team together. You cannot, simply CANNOT lay that failure at Hope Solo's doorstep and refuse to recognize that as the coach, Greg Ryan had a responsibility to keep that team together.

What it boils down to is, all Greg Ryan had to say was, "Hope was understandably upset, we're disappointed in her comments, but as a team we're going to move on." And, after a couple of days that would have been the end of it. (Especially since she apologized.) That's what happens whenever a male athlete makes comments of this nature. And, come to think on it, I don't remember hearing of them apologizing all that often...

At 02 October, 2007 18:17, Blogger Unknown said...

I think it's important to remember that one of the 'core concepts' for the USWNT is team unity. It's like another team we know: DC United.

DC United is about the shirt, not the people who wear the shirt.

Not all teams are like this. Some teams are based on the super-star or more individualism. And while we can disagree as to whether "unity above all" is a good concept or not for the USWNT, Solo clearly violated that. /Especially/ when she did it /during the tournament/ with one game left to play.

You didn't see Troy Perkins declare after the loss to RSL (when Jay Nolly started) that he could have stopped those shots. And if he did, I think we'd rightly be down on him because it's about the team, not about the guy in net any particular night.

As for the journalists, Joanna, I respectfully disagree. They're high on their ethics, but there's a tension between "the establishment" and the press. The press wants more access. And who can blame them? Meanwhile, the establishment wants to control the message. PR guys represent the establishment. It's not sexism. It's just how it is. I can see that PR flak quote from someone hovering over a male or female athlete.

And, again, the fear was she'd blow up. And she did. So the PR flak fear was justified. I can't blame him for trying to run interference, both for the USSF's sake and Solo's.

At 03 October, 2007 11:59, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sure that no one is looking at these comments anymore, but I want to clarify a couple of my points anyways.

First, there is absolutely no rationale behind which Hope should be kicked off the team. That isn't what happenned is is? She could be suspended, sure, like she was for the Norway game. After that, working back into the team is between her and the team, and, of course the coach.

Keyshawn Johnson was benched for the remaining 6-8 weeks of the season a couple of years ago for blowing up at Gruden during a game.

TO was sat for the last half of the season for essentially the same in Philly.

There is precedent.

As for team PR, I have no inside info. However, teams routinely decide which players are allowed to speak with reporters. Some coaches, (Bellicheck and Coughlin) are much more restrictive than others. Players that are not involved in the team conferences can still talk to anyone they want outside of team activities and can be punished for it.

With the journalists, the only reason that they want to interview the athletes is that they know that the athletes are emotional and will eventually say something stupid and sensational, so that they can get bigger press. Don't feed me crap about journalistic integrity when it comes to interviewing athletes.

At 03 October, 2007 19:47, Blogger Kelly said...

Have you seen this on http://womenssoccerusa.blogspot.com

"Ryan, Lilly and Wambach

We have learned that allegedly Greg Ryan's decision to drop Solo and replace her with Scurry may have been more than just agreed to by Lilly and Wambach, and the change may actually have been instigated by Lilly and Wambach.
If true, that of course would shed some light on Solo's banishment and Lilly and Wambach's support of Ryan in the aftermath.

We understand that there is a split among squad members between 12 younger players who continue in their support of Solo and 6 senior players who sided with Lilly, Wambach and Ryan.
During a team meeting it was agreed to put the differences aside and to focus on becoming "the third greatest team you have never heard of."

It appears that Ryan maybe influenced if not outright led by the senior players and thus his bizarre player changes and behavior."

I don't know how credible the post is, but I have heard some similar rumors.


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