Two soccer suspensions involving speech were handed down Wednesday with vastly different penalties.
One was for alleged insulting comments.
The other was given to Hope Solo.
We’ll begin with the first case, which was overshadowed by the U.S. Soccer Federation’s banishment of the infamous goalkeeper.
The United Soccer League, the third tier in the men’s pro pyramid, suspended Orange County Blues midfielder Richard Chaplow for two matches and fined him an undisclosed amount for targeting an opponent with “offensive and abusive language.”
The opponent was Robbie Rogers, the Los Angeles Galaxy defender serving an injury rehab stint with the club’s reserve squad. Rogers, who is gay, accused Chaplow of repeatedly calling him “queer” in the late stage of the match.
The accusation prompted a league inquiry. The USL could not determine definitively whether Chaplow used such coarse language; he denied it. Nonetheless the league decided something inappropriate had been said.
Had the USL been able to corroborate Rogers’s accusation, it might have suspended Chaplow for the last month of the season or terminated his contract. Whatever he said, Chaplow learned, words have consequences.
Solo has never learned that lesson. She is brilliant at what she does on the soccer field and often belligerent off of it.
Her latest offense was an unfiltered screed attacking Sweden, which deployed ultra-conservative tactics in ousting the top-ranked U.S. women’s national team from the Olympics in the quarterfinals, the Americans’ earliest exit from major competition in their glorious history.
The Swedes didn’t cheat; they did what they had to do in order to slay a superior foe.
Never one to mince words, Solo described the Swedes, guided by former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, as a “bunch of cowards.”
In subsequent days, U.S. officials, as well as some of her teammates, said they disagreed or were disappointed in Solo’s characterization. The question was whether the USSF, which has tolerated Solo’s antics for almost a decade, would take action.
The penalty was levied Wednesday: a six-month suspension from the national team and termination of her contract with the USSF. Barring a successful appeal, Solo will not play in any U.S. friendlies this fall. Given her age (35) and the fact the U.S. program has no significant competitions until 2019, the ban may have also effectively ended her international career.
The suspension apparently does not apply to her pro career with the Seattle Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League, though her USSF contract does cover her employment in the league, which is subsidized by the federation.
The USSF’s decision was in response to Solo’s comments at the Olympics, but in essence, it was for cumulative missteps. In his statement announcing the suspension, USSF President Sunil Gulati admitted as much, saying the ruling took “into consideration the past incidents involving Hope.”
In order words, the federation has had enough.
In its view, she deserved a reprimand of some sort for the “cowards” comment. But she deserved long-term banishment for continuing to embarrass the U.S. program and, in the broader scheme, the Olympic program.
The latest episode pales in comparison to the public trashing of her coach, Greg Ryan, at the 2007 World Cup in China; or her failing a drug test in 2012; or her arrest on domestic violence charges in 2014; or her taking a 2015 joy ride in a USSF-rented vehicle with her husband, Jerramy Stevens, who was arrested for drunken driving. (Solo served a short-term suspension for her involvement in that incident.)
Why did the federation keep her around? Her prodigious abilities seemed to outweigh her indiscretions. But with the next World Cup three summers away in France, the USSF finally seems ready to move on. Solo did not have a great Olympics: She shined against France but faltered badly on two free kicks against Colombia.
Alyssa Naeher and Ashlyn Harris do not have Solo’s skills but are capable replacements. And with Solo out of the picture for at least six months, they will have ample opportunity to prove themselves as long-term solutions.
Despite the Olympic setback, the United States remains at the forefront of international women’s soccer and a sterling model for American athletics, male or female. The players, for the most part, have represented the country to the highest standards and inspired legions of girls to get involved in sports and aspire for greatness.
Solo has been a big inspiration between the goal posts but a small person off the field.
Which brings us back to the two suspensions handed down this week. What Chaplow allegedly said was much worse than what Solo uttered. But there was no official transcript or audio of Chaplow’s interaction with Rogers.
There was, for all to read and hear, for what Solo said. And given her long, sordid history, she got what she deserved.