There’s three sides to every story — yours and mine and the cold, hard truth — Don Henley
There’s blood in my mouth ’cause I’ve been biting my tongue all week — Rilo Kiley
Jules: Yolanda, I thought you said you were gonna be cool. Now when you yell at me, it makes me nervous. And when I get nervous, I get scared. And when (bleepers) get scared, that’s when (bleepers) accidentally get shot.
Yolanda: You just know, you touch him, you die.
Jules: Well, that seems to be the situation. But I don’t want that. And you don’t want that. And Ringo here *definitely* doesn’t want that. — Pulp Fiction
Maybe I’m reaching with the last one. Perhaps I should’ve skipped to the part where Jules says the Ezekiel verse one last time and says he’s trying real hard to be the shepherd. The U.S. women’s soccer community could use a shepherd.
As you know if you follow me on Twitter, I bought Hope Solo’s memoir, skimmed the personal parts and read the soccer parts. No offense intended to her personal story — I was just in a hurry to learn what she had said.
I mentioned a couple of things that surprised me. One was a quote that I thought could be taken the wrong way. Another was that she reiterated her racism accusations against Boston Breakers fans, accusations that most of us thought had been put to rest.
People were angry with me. A couple of them were people I respect and like, and we talked it out. A couple were people I don’t know as well who slung a few drive-by insults at me and declined to elaborate on what exactly I’d said.
The latter isn’t a surprise. Solo has a legion of fans who will mobilize against any alleged “hater,” even if she doesn’t ask them to do so. Just check out the reviews at Amazon, where the one person to say anything negative is marked with the dreaded “1 in 24 people found the following review helpful.” (To be sure, the review doesn’t say much. But some of the other reviews marked as “helpful” are simply insane.)
If anyone’s reading here wondering if I’m going to be a “hater,” you might be disappointed. I didn’t hate this book. Her story is well-written — co-writer Ann Killion is never one to mince words (ask Don Garber), and the book moves briskly. And though some people come across better than others, this book wasn’t written to settle grudges. It’s her story. She spends much more time talking about the truly important people in her life — family and a few supportive coaches — than she does about her conflicts. Plenty of people will find this book inspiring.
If you read the book, just remember the Don Henley quote here. There are multiple sides to every story.
The one thing that has to be addressed is the Boston incident. A statement from the Breakers and the Atlanta Beat concluded that a “few individual fans” shouted abusive comments but that the “remarks were from a few individuals and not representative of the Breakers organization or the Riptide supporters group.” Given that, Solo’s book hardly seems fair in saying, “But that night, the members of a Breakers fan club called the Riptide went way too far.” She says she was accused of lying about it, but in the end, “an apology was sent to our team.”
Again — multiple sides to every story. In this case, another side is documented for all to see.
In other cases, the multiple sides aren’t documented. Greg Ryan has responded to the book, but only to deny a physical altercation. He’s not going point by point through Solo’s chronology of events, in which he tells her she was benched in 2007 for missing curfew and a team meeting (a well-kept team secret) — but only well after everything has blown up in the media.
Other people who come across badly in the book may choose not to respond and not to get in a “she said/she said” clash with Solo and her Twitter-crazed fans. That’s their choice.
So please don’t let the book color your impressions of “the 99ers,” the veterans with whom Solo clashes. Or U.S. WNT press officer Aaron Heifetz, a dedicated professional who has put up with a lot. Just bear in mind that they have their own stories to tell, whether they choose to tell them or not.
And that’s not to say their story is right and Solo’s is wrong. Maybe some things are simply misunderstood. Maybe some personalities simply don’t mesh, and people see things a different way. Maybe some people didn’t mean for their words to come out the way they did.
One Tweet today stood out for me:
@hopesolo's book is valuable reading for those who have hard time in groups; good read for those trying to understand them.
— From a Left Wing (@FromaLeftWing) August 15, 2012
If you could summarize a book in 140 characters, that might do it. Solo chooses her friends, very carefully. She doesn’t do things exactly the same way as others, and that surely caused some consternation among “the 99ers.” You don’t just toss the same-colored shirt to Solo and 10 other people and tell them to be best friends. And she’s clearly hypersensitive to cliquish behavior, as many of us are. We’ve always known Solo is — pardon the redundancy — a unique individual. Her book explains, quite reasonably, why that’s the case.
So that’s Solo’s book. Now, maybe 900 words into this, let’s get to the real problems in women’s soccer.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that the plans for a new women’s soccer league next season are short on specifics. And that announcement has been followed by cryptic comments from Seattle Sounders Women and silence from the USL/W-League.
Would it be unfair to conclude that some turf wars are being fought behind the scenes? Hmmmm … no. It would not.
The WPSL and W-League have had a contentious relationship for years. Now we’re adding former WPS teams to the mix. And we don’t know if Dan Borislow has any plans.
The men went through turf wars as well. The decision to grant Division I status to Major League Soccer in 1993 was contentious, and it was a substantial part of a lawsuit that dragged on for years.
U.S. Soccer stuck with MLS through it all. They may need to pick a winning horse on the women’s side, too.
So the lesson here is that women’s soccer today is fraught with pettiness. That doesn’t mean any one person or any one entity is completely in the wrong. It just means people aren’t in a mood to set aside differences.
The epilogue to Solo’s book provides no comfort. She claims the team had a bonding moment — against Brandi Chastain. Watch Shelley Smith’s visceral reaction in the video on that story, and you’ll wonder if the team has united against its oldest fans.
It’s not Solo’s job (nor, in this case at least, Killion’s) to give an exhaustive investigation of all sides of every issue. It’s a memoir. In terms of general tone, her book falls in between the two MMA memoirs I’ve read recently — Randy Couture is apologetic for his faults and generous to his detractors, BJ Penn is not. The difference is that Couture and Penn are in an individual sport. The UFC fan base is supposed to split into Team Penn and Team Matt Hughes. It’s a little uglier to see the USWNT fan base splintering into Team Hope and Team Brandi.
The 99ers, of course, have had their own books, hailing their unselfish triumphs over naysayers that paved the way for more success in women’s sports. Perhaps those books have built up an unrealistic myth. But the truth shouldn’t be forgotten: These players accomplished more than we can imagine, and when the spotlight turned to Mia Hamm, she did everything she could to divert it elsewhere. (When do Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe get their big-time endorsements and ESPN Body Issue photo shoots? Or their two fillings?)
Back to Solo’s epilogue — a question has gone unanswered: Who, immediately after an important win in the Olympics, is sending U.S. players snippets of what Chastain is saying on the broadcasts? Probably not family. It’s hard to imagine that the first thing Hope Solo’s family sent her wasn’t “Great job Hope! We love you!” but “Hey, Brandi said all these nasty things about Rachel!”
More likely, it’s someone with an ax to grind. Someone who says commentators should be more supportive, then goes out to create more divisions.
(And please don’t tell me, “Oh, I don’t like Brandi either.” That’s your right as a viewer. No broadcaster has universal appeal — I listened slack-jawed at a sports bar as English fans dissed the legendary Martin Tyler. But the U.S. players weren’t sitting down and watching the broadcast. They got a few snippets of information — out of context, not representative of the broadcast, from someone with an ax to grind — and decided she was being too negative.)
Want something positive to take away from all this? Here it is.
Pia Sundhage has done a remarkable job as U.S. coach. No, she hasn’t transformed the direct, athletic U.S. team into the female Barcelona. But she has kept this powder keg of raw emotions calm. She — and perhaps the quiet leaders Rampone and Wambach — kept this team united even as they all knew that their actions and conflicts, past and present, were about to be under heavy scrutiny. And for all her “glass half full” sunniness, she stood up to Solo, getting her to release her book after the Olympics. Can anyone doubt that was the right move?
Now if anyone can be that unifying force for U.S. women’s soccer as a whole, we’ll be getting somewhere.