Candace Buckner: Our sports heroes often turn into humans

Candace Buckner: Commentary

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

A handful of young girls pressed against a chain-linked fence, clustered together, eyes beaming wide with anticipation. Just on the other side, Hope Solo stood 10 feet away. They shook with excitement and waited for her to notice them and — with any luck — turn their scrapbooks into priceless memories with her signature.

Just this week, their idol, Solo, the two-time gold-medal winning goalkeeper of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, made news by marrying a guy one day after he was arrested for alledgely assaulting her.

Who really knows what happened but on the Tuesday morning of her reported nuptials with former Seattle Seahawks tight end Jerramy Stevens, he was in a courtroom for a domestic violence probable cause hearing.

While you may want to buy Solo a wedding gift from The Vancouver Institute of Self Defense, I had different thoughts when I first read the reports. I remembered those little girls behind the fence.

A year ago, there they were excited to embrace the national team that had returned stateside for two exhibition matches against Canada. Young girls belonging to the Disney Channel demographic, no older than my own 9-year-old niece, watched their super women strut up and down that field. On that day, those girls idolized Solo, the star who shined the brightest behind the fence.

And today, my hope is that they still do.

But listen closely, little girls. You can look up to athletes and celebrities like Hope Solo. Fine, but focus on their qualities that you admire, and separate the player from her personal choices.

At 31 years old, Solo is as accomplished as any American soccer athlete. She can flaunt two Olympic gold medals around her neck, and had it not been for a couple misreads by her on Japan’s penalty kicks — and her teammates missing their attempts — Solo might have a World Cup title, too. It’s easy to see why she’s so popular for what she’s done on the field. But off the pitch, Solo’s life is dysfunctional enough to have its own A&E reality TV series.

After the U.S. lost in the 2007 World Cup semifinals, Solo ripped her coach Greg Ryan for starting teammate Briana Scurry in goal over her.

“It was the wrong decision and I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that. There’s no doubt in my mind I would’ve made those saves.”

After those comments, Solo’s teammates wanted nothing to do with her. She was suspended from the national team. The following year, when she anchored the Americans to an Olympic gold-medal win in Beijing, Solo showed up to a live morning show appearance drunk.

But just when you think she’s a flake, you read her candid autobiography and feel a little sympathy.

She was conceived inside the Walla Walla State Penitentiary. Her mother struggled with alcohol. Her father, a certified hot mess. One time, he kidnapped Solo and her brother Marcus, and lived in a tent while she starred at the University of Washington. Coincidentally enough, her husband also was a standout Husky student athlete, one accused of raping a co-ed on Greek Row.

Solo alleges that two men have gotten violent with her, Coach Ryan and Maksim from “Dancing With the Stars.” And now here she is — Mrs. Jerramy Stevens.

Solo has endured a tough life. She says silly stuff. She does foolish things. She loves shady dudes. And that makes her just like the rest of us. Amazingly human.

When the cops showed up at her home early Monday morning, Solo refused to give a written statement or explain how her elbow got so bloody.

According to the police report, Solo appeared intoxicated and screeched at her brother, who called 911: “Don’t say anything to them, Marcus!”

Solo’s lips were sealed then, and she doesn’t have to say a thing. But here’s to hoping that on Nov. 28 when the national team plays Ireland at Jeld-Wen Field that she’ll flash her smile that’s fit for magazine covers and wave her glove at a stadium filled with admirers. Especially those little girls who will surely be going bananas on the other side of the protective barrier.

Those young fans should root on their favorite player. They should wear her replica jersey and ask for her autograph because she has made it to the athletic pinnacle where they one day dream to be.

They should look up to Solo for her play, her fierceness in the net and grit on the field. But remember, little girls, what you see beyond that fence are just fragile human beings, not heroes.

Candace Buckner covers the Blazers for The Columbian. She can be reached at 360-735-4528 or email at candace.buckner@columbian.com. Her Twitter handle is @blazerbanter.