Hope Solo won’t be appearing in a WPS game for another six months and yet her name still appears in the headlines. The Atlanta Beat goalkeeper is the recipient of the costliest disciplinary fine ever handed out by WPS. This is just the second time a player has been hit with a monetary punishment and Solo’s $2,500 fine far exceeds the $250 Christine Latham had to shell out for a thrown elbow during the 2009 season.
Solo’s reprimand does not stem from a red card or an egregious foul, but rather from a Tweet – or more accurately, a series of Tweets. After the Atlanta Beat’s 1-0 loss to the Washington Freedom on Saturday, September 11th Solo took to Twitter and accused match officials of easing the Freedom’s passage to the WPS playoffs, as well as well as lambasting a controversial call. The following morning she criticized Freedom Public Relations Manager Jennifer Brunson for the wording of a press release.
The WPS Disciplinary Committee reviewed the situation and has decided to slap Solo with a $2,500 fine in addition to a one-game suspension and a mandated 8 hours of community service. Per WPS rules, Solo has the right to appeal the decision of the one-game suspension and the community service mandate within seven days. She can also appeal the monetary fine, seeing as it exceeds $250.
Some may question whether or not the punishment fits the crime. Real Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales was handed a measly $250 fine and a one-match suspension for physically striking Seattle Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso in an MLS match last Thursday. The comparison isn’t apples-to-apples but it might reveal the extent of Solo’s retribution. Other players have served terms of community service (most notably Solo’s Atlanta Beat teammate Kia McNeill who was hit with a four hour term on July 11 for dangerous play). The $2,500 fine is unprecedented, however.
Hope Solo will inevitably get the brunt of criticism for her latest diatribe. It also could not have come at a worse time for the league from a public relations standpoint. Solo texted her tweets mere hours after The Washington Post first leaked news of Tonya Antonucci’s departure from the league. WPS’ public image seemed to be sullied at all angles.
But perhaps WPS shares some responsibility in this as well. In some ways, Solo’s punishment might be interpreted as a make-up call by the league. Make-up calls are commonplace in soccer: a player commits a bad foul that escapes punishment from the referee. The player commits another bad foul and the referee serves the player with an especially stern punishment both for the most recent foul and the one that preceded it.
The analogy might be at play here. As WPS fans know, Solo has a prior history with this kind of thing. On August 4, Solo accused members of The Riptide, a Boston Breakers’ supporters group, of hurling racist comments towards the Atlanta Beat. Both teams dealt with the situation independently and issued a joint statement.
The accusations were never confirmed and Solo was not punished publicly – fines were not allotted, community service mandates weren’t doled out, Twitter accounts weren’t deactivated. A source close to the situation reveals that “League General Counsel [and soon-to-be WPS CEO] Ann-Marie Eileraas gave Solo a private warning on phone with [Atlanta Beat General Manager] Shawn McGee present on the call”. That was the extent of the reproof, however.
In the wake of Solo’s comments, a lull seemed to have descended upon other WPS players with active Twitter accounts. Reverberations were felt around the league.
It should also be noted that the Atlanta Beat never showed any interest in reprimanding Solo. It was clear that punishment for Solo’s inflammatory comments would have to come from the top and not the team level. The Beat stood behind their player throughout the event, leaving Solo undeterred to unleash another Twitter rant.
Atlanta Beat General Manager Shawn McGee had this to say to The Equalizer in August:
“There are two sides to every story and I can tell you that there were inappropriate and racist comments made by individuals at the match that were directed towards our Japanese players and Hope stood up for her teammates and what she did was to call out something that she believed in and she did not think was appropriate at any sporting event, much less a Women’s Professional Soccer game. You know and I give her props and stand by her side and back her on what she did. Having said that, we could have handled it a little more internally and we have certainly spoken with her and worked with the Breakers organization, who have been fantastic to work with and they are working very diligently to make sure that we don’t have any other recurrences like that at any other future games.”
Perhaps if the league – or the Atlanta Beat - had been more proactive about Solo’s punishment from the initial incident, the judgment wouldn’t have been so harsh this time around. WPS clearly failed to send a rigid message and hoped that a mere warning would be enough to keep gun powder away from a loose cannon. (There’s no need to mention the 2007 Women’s World Cup, right?)
This certainly doesn’t excuse Solo’s actions. Regardless of whether or not Solo was correct in saying what she said about The Riptide, she got off easy. But rather than learning from her fortuitously lenient punishment, she upset the apple cart once again. Committing the same offense twice perhaps reveals the worst kind of obstinacy.
Other commentators seem to agree on this point: calling out match officials is one thing, but publicly censuring a league employee – by last name no less – is simply out of line. Solo’s ridicule of Jennifer Brunson came on the heels of a Tweet in which she did a similar deed to WPS Public Relations Consultant Robert Penner.
With the ruling, WPS has drawn a clear line in the sand, declaring that it is not okay for its players to publicly undermine either league employees or match officials. But perhaps this could have all been avoided if WPS had taken a firmer stand sooner.