Hope Solo gets people talking.
On the field, she's the greatest U.S. women's goalkeeper of all time. Off it, she's arguably the most outspoken American player ever.
As the U.S. women's soccer team chases its third consecutive Olympic gold medal -- buoyed by impressive Olympics victories over France, Colombia and North Korea in the opening round -- the majority of the attention has been on Solo's Twitter rant aimed towards NBC broadcaster (and former U.S. women's national team star) Brandi Chastain.
Instead of a positive buzz for the women's team heading into the quarterfinals, it has now largely been overshadowed by the public debate of whether you are on #TeamSolo or #TeamChastain.
Chastain's comments, the ones that presumably irked Solo following the U.S.' 3-0 victory over Colombia on Saturday, weren't overly critical and were primarily aimed at U.S. defender Rachel Buehler.
"Rachel Buehler with the giveaway there," Chastain noted in the match's 22nd minute. "As a defender, your responsibilities are defend, win the ball, and then keep possession, and that's something Rachel Buehler needs to improve on during this tournament."
Though Solo's comments (see her postgame Tweets above) were aimed at Chastain's abilities in the booth, one can't help but read into the "the game has changed from a decade ago" tweet without thinking there's more to this than just commentary.
Solo has long been vocal about creating a legacy separate from the one built by the 1999 Women's World Cup team, which helped put women's soccer on the map following the iconic game-winning penalty shootout goal by Chastain in the final. This also isn't the first time Solo has taken to Twitter to take a dig at Chastain's broadcasting. During the Olympic qualifying tournament, where the U.S. outscored its opponents 27-0, she tweeted "hey brandi did you find anything positive in our game? Curious minds over here..."
The questions are being asked: Was it really necessary to have a go at a legend who helped pave the way while representing your country on the grand stage at the Olympics? Solo already has defended her comments, saying she was simply expressing her opinion about the quality of analysts that are covering the team.
"I have my beliefs that the best commentators and the best analysts should be analyzing come Olympics, come World Cups, and it's only my opinion. You can take it or leave it..." said Solo, "I think analysts and commentators should bring energy and excitement and passion for the game, and a lot of knowledge, and I think it's important to help build the game, and I don't think Brandi has that."
In the court of public opinion, many of Hope Solo's more than 500,000 Twitter followers will surely stick by her side and applaud the goalkeeper's public desire to express her opinion. Today's athlete has used Twitter as a tool to communicate with fans first hand, rather than relying on being at the mercy of media reports and the opinions of pundits. Solo has certainly taken full advantage of her canvas by earning a fan base that puts her amongst the elite female athletes in the world.
Meanwhile, there has also been an outpouring of support for Chastain as an undeserving victim of simply being honest, and that sometimes means being critical of the team you love. That is the challenge for any former pro athlete who turns into a broadcaster. You run the risk of alienating yourself from former friends and colleagues when you are put in a position of giving your critical opinion about a player or a play and have it projected to everyone who is watching. Even with me writing this article right now, there will be some friends or former teammates of mine who will think I nailed it, and some who will think I have no clue what I'm talking about. It is just the nature of the beast.
To her credit, Chastain chose to take the high road in responding to Solo's comments, releasing a statement saying, "I'm here to do my job, which is to be an honest and objective analyst at the Olympics."
My initial reaction when I learned of Solo's tweets was that they were uncalled for and too defensive. Then I remembered all the times in my life as a player when I would study game film of our games and how frustrating it was to hear comments from broadcasters that I felt were completely off-target. It has long been an inside joke around pro locker rooms that you have to 'press mute' when re-watching games to avoid hearing the baseless commentary. At times it even boils over into personal grudges a player can have with a broadcaster and vice versa. So in this particular case, we must all keep in mind that there is a whole lot that goes on behind the scenes and in locker rooms that we, the public, have no idea about.
The beauty of it all is that it doesn't matter what you or I think, but rather what Solo's teammates think and how they choose to react to her comments. Will they perceive it as an attempt to protect a teammate from the critical analysis of Chastain and rally around her? Or will they think it was a tasteless act that simply brings unnecessary attention to her rather than to the team?
While distractions like this are the last thing you want during a tournament like the Olympics, many of Solo's teammates have grown accustomed to her candid personality. Co-captains Christine Rampone and Abby Wambach will be counted on to pull the team together, as the strong veteran presence on this team should allow any issues to be sorted in-house. I find it hard to believe this group of women will allow something this petty to cause divisions within their quest for a third consecutive gold medal by the U.S.