Posted by: Ethan Johnson | September 13, 2010

WPS: L’Affaire Solo

As noted in prior posts, I have returned to Twitter and am actually enjoying myself this time around. A big part of that has been the opportunity to connect with friends and fans of women’s athletics, and in some cases, actual players. I’ve found people and resources that I didn’t know existed, and look forward to having a more productive and positive web presence – with jokes.

One moment for celebration was the discovery that Hope Solo uses Twitter. Even if we never actually exchanged tweets (it’s usually a one-way street with celebs) I thought it was cool that I could get pithy updates from my favorite USWNT player. Yes, other USWNT players deal in pith, and I am dialed in to most of them too, but Solo was the “deal maker” that got me back into the Twitter racket.

All of that is well and good, but even when I checked out her historic tweets, I had an uneasy feeling that Solo was the next Mark Cuban: Lots of complaining about the refs, lots of “my team is #1”, lots of pithy rants. I stopped reading Mark Cuban’s blog years ago and haven’t looked back, and I really didn’t want my fuzzy “favorite player” feelings tarnished by Twitter malfeasance.

Well, as one might be aware if you’re into “scandal”, Hope Solo went on a Twitter rant after the final Atlanta Beat game of the season, with eyebrow-raising statements to the effect that she was quitting WPS and furious with the officiating. Rather than give the blow by blow, take a moment to read what I feel is the best recap and discussion of the incident: Guess What? Hope Solo’s Not the Only One Behaving Badly on the Internet! on the Seventeen Letters blog.

And here’s where things get a little fuzzy for me. Think whatever you want about Solo’s behavior on Twitter. My opinion: she’s entitled to her opinion. Does it make her look petty and bitter and whiny? Yeah, a little. There is no excuse for Solo calling out a member of another team’s front office. Definitely. But the rest of it, eh. The league has, from the beginning, had this big push for players, staff, whoever to use social media. And now they are. You can’t un-ring a bell. If you want to just read tweets from players that are all rainbows and unicorns and candy and flowers and “just finished great training session!” and “go [team]” and “on the bus on the way to the game” then fine. But we all supposedly wanted an inside look at the lives and opinions of WPS players.

I admit that I was initially inspired to sit down and write a finger-wagging “open letter” to Hope Solo, retelling the story of how I drove from Texas to Illinois to see her play in her first WPS game, how I was thrilled that she signed my custom jersey, and even though I came home to divorce news (unrelated), I look at the framed jersey every day and think gauzily about how great it was to meet my hero, and how great it is that the WPS exists so that others might share in that opportunity, so don’t screw it up, bucko.

I’m glad I didn’t, in large part due to the linked article above, and because others did the venting for me and it was best to just sit back and think all of this through and talk about the real issues, if any.

Here’s what I believe to be the punchline: Even on life support, WPS has the edge over the WNBA, in that nobody had to get into an on-field scrap to make the news. Granted, I think L’Affaire Solo boils down to “inside baseball” for the hardcore WPS junkies, and certainly wasn’t going to get any airplay on ESPN Sportscenter, unlike a WNBA on-court brawl. But isn’t it good, on some level that “bad girl tweeting” got us talking about acceptable player behavior and what should/should not be aired out publicly when you’re a pro player in any sport without on-field violence or off-field crime being the catalyst?

My other knee-jerk reaction to this drama was echoed, albeit differently, by the Cross-Conference Collector blog and podcast: Hope Solo apparently needs an offline confidant. If she had gone on a rant fest at the bar, or by the pool, or whatever star GK’s do these days off the pitch to a trusted friend, or teammate, we’d never be any the wiser. We’d get to have our gauzy ideas of what the players are like, we’d engage in our hero worship and life would go on.

In the brief time that I have been back on the Twitter horse, I have found the service to be oddly humanizing, pith and all. I remarked to my parents that it was wild to learn that Candace Parker had to put her daughter in time-out three times for not picking up her sippy cup. It was wilder today to learn that Carli Lloyd was watching Hoarders on TV, and even wilder that she wrote back when I asked if it was the new episode that aired later in the evening (possible time zone difference?) or a rerun. Turns out they were showing reruns leading up to the new stuff. And as the quoted article text notes above, yes, my Twitter screen is filled with one-liners about who is getting on a plane, is on a plane, or just got off a plane. Kinda cool, but a little goes a long way, y’know?

Just the same, it is good to see that yes, pro athletes have actual lives outside of the sport, even during the season, and while it is easy to put them on some sort of pedestal and only speak in terms of their athletic achievements, they have kids to take care of, parents to visit, rooms to clean, long layovers at airports, and so on.

Anyway, I do think it was wrong for Hope Solo to rant on Twitter post-game, if for no other reason that it could come back to haunt her (and her fans) down the road when it is time to renew her contract, for example. Maybe her bad PR rap will make teams wonder if they can have a lower-maintenance GK for less money. Maybe, as the Cross-Conference bloggers noted, people might give up on the WPS in favor of other leagues and sports, like the WNBA (right, because there’s no drama there, ever). But point taken.

On the flip side, do we want beige one-liners like “what a great game” or “WPS is the r0x0rz” from our favorite WPS players over Twitter? (Blogs aside.) As Brad Sham, former TV announcer for the MLS side FC Dallas liked to say, we want “texture” in our reporting. Learning that one player dislikes another certainly adds “texture” to the next time you see those players face off. Learning that a player is watching the same TV show you are certainly adds “texture” to your TV viewing.

I think, in the end, there’s a fine line between “texture” and “abrasive”, which is what has many people turned off to Hope Solo right now. As with L’Affaire Solo, that too shall pass.

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