Friday, September 28, 2007

Let Us Now Praise Honest Athletes

Even though I am a big soccer fan, I haven't written anything about the Womens' World Cup. The reason for that is that (a) I haven't really been following it as much as I feel I should to write too much intelligently on it, though I did watch the England quarterfinal match, and (b) I have a problem with the way soccer is often unfairly viewed as a sport "for women" in this country. As to (b), and I want to be very clear about this, it's not that I don't like that the womens' national team gets too much coverage and it's not that I think the womens' team gets more or better coverage than the men would in a major international tournament. But I do think there's a subtext to some of the coverage - a hint that soccer's an OK sport for girls, but boys should play "real" sports. And I realize that I'm wrongly reinforcing opposition stereotypes with my view on that. But all that's not the point of this post.

This post is to out and out praise and declare my unyielding support for USWNT goalkeeper Hope Solo, who was benched by manager Greg Ryan in the semifinal match against Brazil. Ryan started Brianna Scurry, who hadn't played a full match in three months, and displacing Solo, who had preserved three straight clean sheets.

After the match, Solo was not reserved in her criticism of the decision to go with Scurry:

"It was the wrong decision, and I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that," Solo said after the game. "There's no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves. ... You have to live in the present. And you can't live by big names. You can't live in the past."

This, if I can be very clear is AWESOME. I am so sick and tired of media trained athletes and their wishy-washy, limp, always-qualified, softball responses to questions. I absolutely love that Solo came out clearly and confidently in calling bullshit on the manager's decision.

Professional athletes are probably the most competitive people in the world, and certainly among the most confident. It's painful to watch world-class athletes mince their words so as not to offend people they compete against. To see a world class athlete demur instead of coming out and say it makes me wonder about his or her personal confidence and backbone.

Now, pre-game trash talking can get a guy in trouble (see Wallace Gilberry or Casey Clausen). I'm not really talking about that. And honestly, I don't have that much of a problem with it - I like the confidence, but you are just raising the bar for yourself on having to back it up.

But what's wrong with honestly responding like Solo did? Especially when she clearly has a point that the lineup was wrong - and she probably could've saved some of those goals (one was just atrocious).

What would've been the better response to questions about the roster move?

"Well, Brianna did her best and I support her and the manager's decision. We're all sad about the result and there's nothing I could've done differently."


"It was bush league. We lost because we didn't have our best team on the field. I am a good enough player to have made a difference."

Would you want the person who responds like the former or the latter on your team? It's the choice between (a) the player you'd most like to have a group hug session with, or (b) the person whose competitive fire is strongest. All day, I'd take Hope Solo on my team.

UPDATE: I'm not really happy with this post, but I'm leaving it up. I kind of went off on too many tangents and didn't really get across my main points, which are these: 1) I appreciate honest, even if brusque and uncouth, answers from athletes because they're a welcome departure from the typical media-trained boring, emotion-free soundbites we get from most athletes; and (2) I don't have that much of a problem with a competitive person saying something that's probably accurate like what Solo said. I'm tired of people either saying nothing controversial at all for fear of whatever, and I'm also really tired of hearing "well, that might be true, but you just shouldn't say that." The truth sometimes hurts.


peacedog said...

Mixed feelings here.

Starting Scurry made no sense. She was fabulous in the Olympics 3 years ago, but she was already well on the wrong side of 30 when that happened. She didn't get younger since, obviously. While Keeper is a position that can age well, Scurry hasn't been a regular in some time.

Ryan said he'd been contemplating the move for months but his reasoning is pure bullshit. I was a keeper. You don't have a skillset suited to a certain team. You might have a skillset suited towards a certain type of game - if Ryan feared Brazil was going to get a number of big scoring chances, he might put a prize on athleticism or sheer skill. But it isn't like Scurry can claim this stuff on Solo anymore (7 years ago? Sure. 3 years ago? Maybe. ).

If he's worried about Solo playing in a game of this magnitude, this is all his fucking fault to begin with then. For having the US defense look so poorly (not entirely his fault), and for not having Solo ready to play in a game like this.

Several off the goals certainly looked saveable.

That said, I don't think Solo is going to accomplish much lashing out in the media, admiration for an athlete who isn't giving safe answers notwithstanding. The team appears to be losing it's identity, and this won't help. Now, had she done this to him in private. . . fabulous. And, maybe she did.

A disappointing cup run no matter how you slice it. Waumbach is terrfic but we seem incapable of consistently demonstrating the offensive proficiency the team has been known for in the past.

Ed said...

If you want exhibit "A" in the type of crap that passes for a press conference, check out Jimmy Clausen's on this week. He is a frickin robot.

However, I must warn you that you may very well blow a gasket by subjecting yourself to it.

PB said...

Tend to agree with you, LD.

Of course, I like Barry Bonds, so...