- Kate Fagan, Columnist, espnW.com
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Hope Solo is a bad leader.
Sounds kind of harsh, doesn't it? Feels a little like a sucker punch, perhaps something Solo might say about somebody else on her Twitter feed -- impulsively putting somebody on blast because, well, she happens to feel like it. Or because she doesn't particularly like what someone has to say about her United States women's soccer team. In this case, that someone is former U.S. soccer star Brandi Chastain, whom Solo cyber-tacked on Saturday afternoon because she took offense to Chastain's commentary during the U.S. team's 3-0 win over Colombia at the London Olympics.
During the broadcast, Chastain stated that defender Rachel Buehler's game needed to improve as the tournament progressed, an innocuous observation that would have had a shelf life of, oh, half-a-second if not for Solo's postgame messages. Now, everyone is talking about whether Chastain's comments regarding Buehler's defense were justified and, subsequently, discussing the same thing about Solo's comments regarding Chastain.
If I'm Buehler, I'm less than thrilled with Solo's look-at-what-a-good-teammate-I-am routine. Because, let's be real, this whole mess seems to have a whole lot more to do with Solo being Solo than with her defending Buehler's honor.
Solo is a brilliant goalkeeper, maybe the best in U.S. history. But her leadership skills need a complete overhaul. Her Twitter rant was all kinds of wrong; and the odd part is that she seems to think of herself as brave, a brash voice willing to say what everyone else is too timid to verbalize. She stands with her chest puffed out, the team's last line of defense, on and off the field. But what Solo did on Saturday was toss a boulder into still water, creating a distraction where none existed. And she's supposed to be a team leader?
The best leaders don't pop off anytime they feel slighted. (See other examples of Solo's controversial behavior here and here.) Leadership doesn't work that way. It takes a heck of a lot more courage to rise above and accept criticism, to stay above the fray, than it does to hop on Twitter and reel off a few vicious (and only partially coherent) messages whenever you don't like something.
Does Solo want the U.S. women's national team to be taken seriously or not? Because being in the spotlight -- appearing on "Dancing with the Stars" and showing up on magazine covers and doing all the things that Solo does to keep our attention -- means taking the bad with the good. It means steeling yourself against increased scrutiny and -- gasp -- criticism.
Consider the reaction from Chastain, who took the high road and told the media in London she's "here to do my job, which is to be an honest and objective analyst at the Olympics," or from former national team star Julie Foudy, who's covering the Games for espnW. I have $100 that says both Chastain and Foudy would love to pop off right back at Solo. But they won't. Because they have something Solo appears to lack: maturity.
Chastain, a member of the team that won the 1999 Women's World Cup, helped build the platform on which Solo now stands. The two were also teammates for four years, which means Solo should know better than most people all the ways in which Chastain has been an ambassador for women's soccer. Respecting those who came before and paved the way is a key part of leadership, too. And yet somehow Solo seems to believe that Chastain's generation of players is afraid that Solo's generation will eclipse its legacy.
No doubt, a big part of Solo's popularity is due to her in-your-face personality. She walks a fine line between refreshing and irresponsible. She seems to carry a chip on her shoulder, seeing enemies everywhere, an attitude that probably serves her well on the pitch, like kindling for fire. She is always motivated to prove the doubters wrong.
Most teams have a player or two who create drama where there is none. But rarely are those players team leaders. So let's not pretend that Solo's rant was a form of leadership. Her Tweets served only one person.
3dMichael Better and Elliott Parshall