Hope Solo’s Moment of Truth
Hope Solo may be one of the ten or so best names ever given to an athlete, and maybe the most accurate one for a soccer goalie. Yesterday, though I am only an occasional futbol watcher, I tuned in the women’s World Cup just in time for the overtime period. I had been watching the Atlanta Braves pull out a two-out-bottom-of-the-ninth-game-winning-come-from-behind victory. Freddie Freeman, our 21 year old rookie first baseman, is one of my favorite Braves this year. Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, Jair Jurrjens, Freddie, Martin Prado and the two rookie flamethrowers, Johnny Venters and Craig Kimbrell, are my, “These Guys Are What Baseball Is About” team.
They came back and won in true heroic fashion in a script from a John R. Tunis book from my childhood. The old veteran star, Chipper Jones, out with a knee injury, and the “kids” step up and do it. Down 6-2, their star pitcher blown out in an atypical bad game, the young Braves battle back, finally tie it at 8-8 in the 8th. Then the Nats walk the feared veteran McCann (27 yearas old!) to get to the Rookie. He makes ‘em pay. It is truly an American story—never give up, never give in (That was also the theme of movie space heroes in “Galaxy Quest”).
All the while, I was flipping back and forth to the Women’s World Cup. Up 1-0, the announcers talked like, “This is it. The Americans are in the driver’s seat!” What a run! What a story! Then, flipping back, Japan tied it. Must have let down. Then 2-1—the USA does it again!
Japan was not to be undone. Another goal. 2-2 and they were in overtime. I watched, waiting for the American story to emerge again. This is a great bunch of young women, hard-fighting, and the pace was exciting. Finally, though, it came down to the penalty kicks, a gut-wrenching “Sudden Death” that feels like a gunfight in the Wild West. It is that moment in soccer when the goalie’s job is most lonely and exposed position in sports. All up to you, nowhere to hide.
But we had Hope Solo, a poised, beautiful young woman, terrific athlete, up to the task. The Americans already had won a match this way. But then, when they huddled, the coach of the Japanese team ended with a smile at the women he coached. They looked confident, and I had this bad feeling that maybe it could go the other way. I felt the surge of emotions that always come in a highly competitive moment—anxiety, anger at the other team (surely the most irrational emotion on the planet, but I also watch SEC football, so I take “temporary insanity” as a given), and dread, along with confidence, even arrogance, despite the fact that from my recliner I actually have nothing to do with the outcome.
You know the rest. Japan kicked ‘em past our star goalie and we didn’t get it done. And then, confetti time. The other guys won. Japan, is still an enemy in the minds of our oldest generation, and an economic competitor to recent ones, and only lately our friend against the new bully on the planet-block, China. Disappointment. Compassion for the USA women in those moments when their pain was on display.
Hope Solo, ever the class act, shifted my disappointment into sportsmanship. We lost to a great team, we really did,” she said. “As much as I’ve always wanted this, if there’s any team I could give it to them, it would be Japan. They do really deserve this.” Well, as Clint Eastwood growled in “Unforgiven,” “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.” But maybe “earned” does. And maybe respect does, too.
Maybe Hope was referring to the March tsunami and the nuclear disaster that followed. Perhaps she was respecting an opponent that the Americans had soundly beaten before, more than once. She could have chosen excuses, deprecation of the opponents’ accomplishment, or luck to explain what happened. Instead, she chose to speak truth—the other team was playing for something, too. It isn’t a game without real competition. And the competition brings out the best (and worst), which is why we have thrived on it in our history. Never give up, never give in, and usually you have a good day. But you’ll always sleep well when you leave it all on the field.
Maybe it could have gone another way, but I’m not sure. Sometimes it’s just the other guy’s moment. You can wallow in resentment, or come up with class. Hope Solo took the better way. There’s something to learn from this young woman: Words, while inadequate, are sometimes all we have left. When you lose, your words will either deepen the wound or move you on to better things.
My friend Ron Delbene used to say that when you change the way you say things, you start to change your life. Talking differently about yourself and your life changes you even before your circumstances change. But at the least, they show what is inside, which is why Jesus encouraged us to spend plenty of time and care with our words. Keep it simple, and take care with them. Once they’re out there, they can wreak plenty of havoc.
We have a little song we sing to my granddaughter sometimes, called “Only Good Words.” I made this song up, so I can quote it: “Only good words, only good words, only good words spoken here.” Respect. Good sport. Class act. Gracious in defeat. Mature.
Not bad words at all, Hope Solo. Not bad.