The Women’s World Cup starts June 6, and, right on time, frequently-arrested USWNT keeper Hope Solo’s reclamation project is starting up, too. If you’re wondering why this campaign is happening, we have no answers for you; all we can do is point you to the first stop, a long, gushy, and somewhat confused ESPN profile.
This piece is an exemplar of a kind of story that’s become exhaustingly common, in which an athlete accused of some kind of wrongdoing invites a writer into their home and explains that they’re really just a normal, if misunderstood, person who may have made a few mistakes but has become better for them.
If this one seems particularly strange, it may be because it’s trying so hard to convince you that Hope Solo is not a violent, unhinged drunk who just happens to be one of the best soccer players alive, but rather on something resembling a spiritual quest. Photos straight out of Blake Lively’s lifestyle website thread the piece together. There’s Hope Solo walking through the yard with her two dogs; Hope Solo jumping into a swimming pool in her clothes; and Hope Solo laughing alone with salad. (Okay, the last one is made up.) She makes efforts to come off as unguarded, talking openly about her past—as well as that of her husband, former NFLer Jerramy Stevens, who has been arrested numerous times and settled a civil suit for a rape that occurred while he was at the University of Washington—and giving a look at the “real” Hope Solo, not the woman accused of drunkenly brawling with her sister and 6-foot-8, 17-year-old nephew last June. (Those charges were dropped in January.) Solo and Stevens, we discover, are a quiet, reserved couple just trying to get by in this crazy world, definitely not the kind of people to get discovered drunk in the team van. Let Allison Glock describe a moment in their lives:
“He’s the neat freak,” Solo says, side-eyeing Stevens, who played nine seasons in the NFL, as she takes a seat beside him. In person, Solo is tinier than you imagine. Lean, compact. The planes in her angular face catch what little light Seattle has to offer, her hair a Breck-girl wonder, her teeth white as the queen’s gloves.
“I can’t even leave anything on the stairs,” she continues, as Stevens shrugs, explaining he doesn’t like clutter, especially on the floor. Solo watches his eyes as he talks, places her hand on the round of his shoulder.
It’s a nice moment, much different from, say, this:
The piece features a remarkable number of passages that aren’t just about their nominal subjects, when you think about it, all of which are so pat, fitting so neatly into the typical story of misunderstanding and redemption, that they come off as vaguely unnerving. An anecdote about Solo’s pet Dobermans quickly veers in the expected direction, for instance:
“They look terrifying. But they aren’t,” Solo says, stroking the tops of their heads as the dogs nuzzle into her hand. “They have this reputation they don’t deserve. Like they are bred to be evil or something.” She smiles wanly. “People don’t see. Inside they are just the sweetest things.”
And a bit of reflection on the art of goalkeeping subtly positions Solo’s various problems as having been something of a team effort:
Solo still struggles with being reflexively defensive. Memories don’t change when everything else does. We are all the result of the storms we weather. We all bow from the breeze. Besides, being defensive is her job.
That is something else people forget about goalkeeping. The mistakes are never solely the fault of the keeper. For a ball to get to the net at all means several errors by other players have already occurred.
There are tears:
“My name was completely smeared. I had already been compared to Ray Rice, to Adrian Peterson,” she says of the media swirl around the charges. “From here on out, no matter what happens, I’ll forever be associated with domestic violence.”
As she revisits the night and its protracted aftermath, Solo begins to cry. She feels stupid, she says, palming tears from her cheeks. For what happened, yes, but more for trusting people she now views as poisonous. “It was hell,” she says.
And a moment where a jailed Solo turns to Ayn Rand for comfort:
Once in custody, Solo asked whether there was anything available to read, and the guards rolled in the jail’s portable bookshelf. It was stuffed with well-worn romance novels and easy readers. Disappointed, Solo spun the shelf to the other side and there, in the bottom, snug and pristine, was a copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Solo grabbed the novel and clutched it to her chest, heart pounding. Rand had been her favorite author for years. She feels a kinship with a woman “most people think of as selfish.” Someone whose message is “misconstrued.”
Solo read all day and night. “And at my lowest point in my life,” she says, her voice hitching, “it saved me.”
All of this is wildly unconvincing. Solo’s domestic-violence problems weren’t on the same scale as Ray Rice’s, and it’s frustrating that she’s become one half of a broad false equivalency being drawn out by MRA types; it’s clear, though, that even setting her legal troubles aside, she’s an absolutely insufferable person. Her public undermining of keeper Brianna Scurry in the 2007 World Cup, for instance, famously left her out on an island not because no one understood the real Hope Solo, but because teammates thought it was fucked up that she was telling anyone who would listen about how much better she would have done. (Solo claims the damaged friendships have been repaired.) And back in 2012, she essentially told former national player and current commentator Brandi Chastain to zip it, because the game had changed since Chastain had stopped playing. In all, her attempts at coming off as more or less normal leave you wondering one thing: Why bother?
Solo knows she’s not getting sponsors back, and admits as much; she’s almost certainly not winning over people who have formed opinions of her based on years of watching her public conduct; and none of it really matters next to the fact that she’s the best keeper in America. (As a graphic in the article reminds the reader, Solo has made 45 starts for the national team since 2012, blowing away her competition.) The answers we’re not getting from this story and all the ones like it have to do with the questions they don’t ask: Does anyone really want or need these athletes to be anything other than good at their jobs? If so, why?
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