LONDON — Hope Solo can be huge fun, in her irradiated Attack of the 50-foot-Woman way. But Solo abhors an attention vacuum, and in the absence of it she will say anything to make cameras and microphones return, even if it means insulting Brandi Chastain and jacking around with her U.S. soccer team’s equilibrium at the Olympics. Solo wants to be careful with that. People will start suspecting that she’s more shiny than she is bright.
For her latest Dance-Until-I-Blot-Out-All-The-Other-Stars performance, Solo has picked a nasty public fight with Chastain, the former heroine of the U.S. team who is here as an NBC commentator. Solo went all hateful via Twitter just because Chastain remarked on the air that the U.S. needed a little work on defense.
“Its 2 bad we can’t have commentators who better represents the game…Lay off commentating about defending and gking until you get more educated @brandichastain the game has changed from a decade ago,” Solo tweeted, and then followed that with, “I feel bad 4 our fans that have 2 push mute.”
Now, something should be immediately obvious. There is no way Solo actually heard what Chastain said on the air, since she was playing in the game. Yet Solo’s attack was predicated on the idea that Chastain had uttered some kind of horrible slur against the United States, and specifically defender Rachel Buehler, during their victory over Colombia on Saturday. In fact, all Chastain said was this:
“Rachel Buehler with the giveaway there. As a defender, your responsibilities are defend, win the ball, and then keep possession, and that’s something Rachel Buehler needs to improve on during this tournament.”
How dare Chastain make such a gently straightforward observation?
What’s more, Solo tweeted, Chastain wasn’t playing her proper role. Instead of stating facts and engaging in lucid and frank analysis, Chastain “should be helping to grow the sport.” Now this is fearfully sanctimonious. It’s also wrongheaded. What is this curious rule that says all female athletes are supposed to be homers for life, unquestioning backers of their team and gender, as opposed to independent-minded professionals?
“My response is, I am here at the London Olympics to be an honest and objective analyst for NBC during the Games, and that is what I will continue to do,” Chastain responded via e-mail.
Clearly, Solo was looking to pick a fight with Chastain, and leaped at the most minor excuse. The question is why? We won’t know until Monday afternoon, when Solo will address the issue following a team practice in Manchester. In the meantime she met with Coach Pia Sundhage and the U.S. team captains, who were concerned that Solo has — once again — caused a drama.
A couple of things appear to be going on. The one thing this isn’t about is the content of Chastain’s remarks. What it really seems to be about is the fact that Solo has a new book out, and she’s going down market. It may also be about Solo’s irritation at the enduring presence of Chastain, who embodies a constant reminder that the current U.S. squad has yet to live up to the illustrious achievements of the 1999 team, to whom they owe their stardom. Grow the game?? It may never again be as big as it was when Chastain and her teammates won the ’99 World Cup over China in front of a capacity Rose Bowl crowd, and Chastain posterized herself on the cover of Sports Illustrated by whipping off her shirt after scoring the winner.
It’s a nagging fact that although Solo is better paid and better promoted, she’s not nearly as decorated as her predecessors. She has never won a World Cup, although she possesses a gold medal won in Beijing. Chastain has won two World Cups and two Olympic golds in a remarkable 16-year run. It can’t always be pleasant that so many of the ’99 stars are still hanging around looking over the current team’s shoulders, passing judgment. In addition to Chastain, Julie Foudy is here for ESPN. During last year’s World Cup, Chastain, Foudy and Mia Hamm all sat in the broadcast booth.
“I do think it’s hard to have a former teammate talking sometimes in a way that points out that wasn’t the best way to play a ball, or the best play defending,” Foudy says. “That’s hard, and I get that. But my biggest issue is, my job as an analyst is that I have to report as I see it, as objectively as possible, or I lose all credibility.”
Instead of worrying about what Chastain says on the air, Foudy suggests, maybe Solo should appreciate the fact that the game is on network television at all. “It’s a good sign because it means people are paying attention,” she says. “They’re going to get the good, and the bad, the critiquing, but that’s great because there was a point when we were playing and people didn’t [care]. And that’s not fun.”
The most disappointing aspect of Solo’s behavior is that it suggests she hasn’t learned as much as she could have from players like Chastain. The real inheritance from that squad wasn’t fame, or the chance to make a great living. It was a sense of mutual indebtedness, and a brand of solidarity that prevented these sorts of spats. There was a striking lack of ego; they weren’t particularly conscious of their stardom or specialness. It was their most pleasant quality. And Solo could do with a little of it.
For previous Sally Jenkins columns, visit washingtonpost.com/jenkins.
Swimming: France rallies past U.S. in 4x100 relay
Photos: The best from Day 2 in London
Photos: Scenes from the London Olympics