Upon her return from France earlier this week, I asked the progenitor of the lawsuit waged by the U.S. women’s world champion soccer team how pleased she was with the national rally the squad had ignited. Its conflagration continued Wednesday during the team’s ticker-tape celebration in New York, where the head of the U.S. Soccer Federation attempted to address the throngs that turned out to fete the club, only to be drowned out by raucous chants of “Equal pay! Equal pay!”
“What hurt me the most,” she said, “is when [the new women’s rights movement] wasn’t en vogue, I didn’t have the support of the team.”
The woman wasn’t Megan Rapinoe, the purple-coiffed winger who won the Golden Ball as the World Cup MVP and, more notably, earned this country’s and the world’s admiration for being unapologetically blunt about the unjust treatment female soccer players suffer compared with their male counterparts.
It was, instead, Rapinoe’s former teammate Hope Solo. All but forgotten.
“My name hasn’t been forgotten,” she corrected me. “It’s been purposely ignored.”
After 202 appearances, two Olympic gold medals and a World Cup title, Solo — the first U.S. goalkeeper, man or woman, to post 100 shutouts — was unceremoniously retired in 2016 by U.S. Soccer. But she didn’t quit it.
Last August, Solo filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer. She did so six months before the players now being celebrated as fearless trailblazers did the same thing. Indeed, in mounting a defense against the twin lawsuits, the soccer federation tried unsuccessfully to consolidate the cases by pointing out they were similar if not “precisely the same.”
Solo said she and her legal team tried to enlist the players on this year’s World Cup team in a court fight that she wound up waging on her own. Her recruits included four former teammates — Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and Becky Sauerbrunn — who had joined her in March 2016 in filing a gender pay discrimination charge against USSF with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Only this time, the active players balked.
“I think it’s because I’ve been a thorn in the side of the U.S. Soccer Federation for so long,” Solo said.
Solo never fit the profile of the women the federation wished to promote. She didn’t come from some cookie-cutter suburban mold. As she recounted in her book, “Solo: A Memoir of Hope,” “My mother, who had moved to Everett, Washington, as a young woman, married my father and became pregnant with me during a conjugal visit while my father was serving a prison sentence in Washington.”
She married former NFL tight end Jerramy Stevens in 2012 after he was investigated for assaulting her. In 2015, they were pulled over while Stevens was driving a U.S. Soccer team van after a team event. Police arrested Stevens for suspected DUI, and the team suspended Solo for a month.
In 2012, Solo tested positive for a banned diuretic found in a premenstrual drug she took. She owned it. A couple of years later, she was arrested and charged with two counts of fourth-degree assault against a sister and nephew in a domestic assault case. The charges eventually were dismissed.
Four months after Solo led the EEOC complaint in 2016, the USSF suspended her and terminated her contract for calling the Swedish women’s team “cowards” after it beat the U.S. squad at the Rio Olympics. The moves effectively retired her from the national team. Were she a man, Solo probably would have been excused for being passionate. Instead, she was censured for a career of behavior, I guess, deemed unbecoming of a female athlete. Challenging authority, as opposed to submitting to it, no doubt played a part in her virtual banishment.
I’ve always appreciated Solo’s don’t-give-a-damness, like I have come to applaud Rapinoe’s. It’s part of what made her this country’s greatest goalkeeper. Solo criticized not only power and opponents but coaches who benched her and teammates who she felt came up short. Just last month, while so many excused Solo’s former team for celebrating double-digit goals in its World Cup opener against Thailand, Solo rightfully took it to task while providing commentary in France for the Guardian and the BBC.
So she returned home after the World Cup with the intent of seeing her lawsuit through for those who haven’t joined her and may have shunned her.
“With each World Cup, there’s more money, more commercialization,” Solo said. “Winning is key. That’s why I have to give the players so much credit. We were trying to get the public’s support.”
But already the women are doing what Solo never did. They are moonwalking. Rapinoe told Rachel Maddow and others this week that the women wanted to collaborate with the federation on equal pay and treatment.
“Rapinoe and Kelley [O’Hara] were naive,” Solo said. “There was no good faith negotiating [with the federation]. They have backed down. It’s more than doing appearances on ‘Good Morning America.’ I don’t trust U.S. Soccer. It’s been going on like this for 20 years.”
To be sure, this set of world champions played under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement that wasn’t near what it sought. That followed a threat to boycott the 2015 World Cup because some games, unlike the men’s, would be played on artificial turf. They played in the end.
If they want equal pay going forward, as they charged in France, they can’t retreat from their words. They must stick to their lawsuit or join Solo’s. Collaboration is capitulation.
Solo said she didn’t watch Wednesday’s bash in New York. But she said her best friend on the team, Lloyd, whom she praised in the Guardian for consoling the Thai keeper the team humiliated, kept her abreast with photos.
“My husband tells me the tip of the spear takes the most hits,” Solo said. “I feel a little bit battered and beat down. But we want the future generations to benefit. So there has to be a historical [win].”
Another mediated agreement isn’t the goal, she said.
“Give equal pay,” Solo said, “and let’s move on.”
Solo, for one, won’t move on until it’s done.