Good: Hope Solo Finally Loses The Protection Of The Star Syndrome; Bad: U.S. Soccer Still Doesn’t Get It; Good: Hope Provides Rationalization #59

Solo loses

The Star Syndrome, a.k.a “The King’s Pass,” #11 on the Ethics Alarms Rationalization List, is the ethics bane of organizations generally and sports especially. It is one of the major catalysts of cultural corruption, whether the “star” is Bill Clinton, Lance Armstrong, Manny Ramirez, O.J. Simpson, Roget Ailes,  Brian Williams, George S. Patton, or Werner Von Braun. To refresh your memory…

11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What Will We Do Without Him?”

One will often hear unethical behavior excused because the person involved is so important, so accomplished, and has done such great things for so many people that we should look the other way, just this once. This is a terribly dangerous mindset, because celebrities and powerful public figures come to depend on it. Their achievements, in their own minds and those of their supporters and fans, have earned them a more lenient ethical standard. This pass for bad behavior is as insidious as it is pervasive, and should be recognized and rejected whenever it raises its slimy head.  In fact, the more respectable and accomplished an individual is, the more damage he or she can do through unethical conduct, because such individuals engender great trust.

Thus the corrupting influence on the individual of The King’s Pass leads to the corruption of others, through…

11. (a) “I deserve this!” or “Just this once!”

Especially common to the hero, the leader, the founder, the admired and the justly acclaimed is the variation on the Kings Pass that causes individuals who know better to convince themselves that their years of public service, virtue and sacrifice for the good of others entitle them to just a little unethical indulgence that would be impermissible if engaged in by a lesser accomplished individual. When caught and threatened with consequences, the practitioner of this rationalization will be indignant and wounded, saying, “With everything I’ve done, and all the good I’ve accomplished for others, you would hold this against me?” The correct answer to this is “We are very grateful for your past service, but yes.

There are few more striking examples of this phenomenon than women’s soccer star Hope Solo. The New York Times neatly summarizes her last decade of dubious conduct (I’m being diplomatic):

Over the years, as Solo has established herself as the dominant female goalkeeper of her generation, she has also repeatedly tested the patience of the United States soccer federation, clashing with coaches, criticizing teammates and picking fights with former national team stars on social media. In 2014, she was arrested on domestic assault charges that were later dropped before being reinstated this summer, and last year she was with her husband in a team van when he was arrested for driving under the influence. Even her turn on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” a high-profile crossover for U.S. Soccer, ended in controversy after Solo publicly accused her partner of slapping her. (She also declared in her memoir that the show was “rigged” by the producers.)

Concludes the Times:

“It was the sort of conduct that would almost certainly have resulted in a lesser player’s being dropped from the national team roster. But for Hope Solo, who some argue is the greatest goalkeeper in American soccer history, male or female, there was always another chance.”

Hello, Rationalization #11!

How many girls who idolized the attractive, bold, outspoken and imposing star came to regard Solo’s arrogance and lack of respect for others as legitimate and a template for their own behavior? If not that, then how many absorbed the false construct that with productivity and success comes justified immunity from accountability? Another description of the King’s Pass is “Laws are for the little people.”

We’ve heard that one a lot lately.

Ah, but as some stars have discovered to their horror, there may be limits, at least when one’s employer cares about ethics and standards. This week, U.S. Soccer suspended Solo for six months for the inexcusably graceless comments she made two weeks after Swedish women’s team  beat the United States in the quarterfinals of the Rio Olympics. The federation also terminated her contract.  Essentially,  Hope Solo was fired.

So do ethical values now, finally, reign supreme in women’s soccer? Hardly. The problem is that Hope Solo had just lost, and indicated with her erratic performance in the Olympics that she is “king” no longer. Would U.S. Soccer have dumped her if she had played like the Hope of old and her team had won the gold?


Along with the last match, Solo had lost her deflector shields, her armor, her “Get Out of Jail Free” card. She is mortal now. The double standard no longer applied to her.

The president of U.S. Soccer, Sunil Gulati pointed out, in making the announcement about Solo’s punishment, that the decision to terminate Solo’s contract took into account “past incidents” and “private conversations we’ve had requiring her to conduct herself in a manner befitting a U.S. National Team member.”

No no no, U.S. Soccer, it doesn’t work that way. You don’t let a star escape accountability for years of misconduct, then wait until she’s no longer good enough that you have an incentive to look the other way, and then hit her with all the accumulated punishment she should have received all along.  That’s like a spoiled child that a parent lets get away with outrageous behavior because she’s beautiful, a brilliant pupil and a stand-out athlete, and then after she gets cut from the basketball team,  flunks algebra and gets acne, the parent beats her into a coma for staying out too late. The organization shares some of the blame for Solo. For years it sent the message that she was allowed to misbehave because she was a great goalie, and she took full advantage of the situation, as most people would. She didn’t become a monster all by herself. She was encouraged, and enabled.

Not that Hope engenders much sympathy, for Solo is Hopeless. Her statement after the boom lowered is exactly what you would expect from a lifetime beneficiary of a double standard:

“For 17 years, I dedicated my life to the U.S. Women’s National Team and did the job of a pro athlete the only way I knew how — with passion, tenacity, an unrelenting commitment to be the best goalkeeper in the world, not just for my country, but to elevate the sport for the next generation of female athletes….”

Translation: “How can you do this to me? I deserve special treatment!” Rationalizations invoked: #11. (a) “I deserve this!” , #13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”

“In those commitments, I have never wavered. And with so much more to give, I am saddened by the Federation’s decision to terminate my contract.”

Translation: “I’m not sorry. I’m the victim here. You don’t treat stars this way. Everybody knows that.” Rationalization invoked: #11 The King’s Pass.

“I could not be the player I am without being the person I am…”

Translation: “The ends justify the means.” Rationalizations invoked: #3 Consequentialism, or  “It Worked Out for the Best;” #41 A. Popeye’s Excuse, or “I am what I am.”

“…even when I haven’t made the best choices or said the right things.

Translation: “This so unfair, and everyone is so ungrateful.” Rationalizations invoked: Rationalization 41 A. Popeye’s Excuse, or “I am what I am,” #19A The Insidious Confession, or “It wasn’t the best choice” (aka “Hillary’s Diversion”), #19. The Perfection Diversion: “Nobody’s Perfect!” or “Everybody makes mistakes!”

“My entire career, I have only wanted the best for this team, for the players and the women’s game and I will continue to pursue these causes with the same unrelenting passion with which I play the game.”

Translation: “It’s not me, it’s you.”

Now that I think about it, that needs to be added to the Rationalizations List: Rationalization #59 (and the 70th over all!)  The Paranoid’s Blindness, or Solo’s Lament: “It’s not me, it’s you.”

Thanks, Hope!

8 thoughts on “Good: Hope Solo Finally Loses The Protection Of The Star Syndrome; Bad: U.S. Soccer Still Doesn’t Get It; Good: Hope Provides Rationalization #59

  1. ““My entire career, I have only wanted the best for this team, for the players and the women’s game and I will continue to pursue these causes with the same unrelenting passion with which I play the game.””

    That sounds more like “saints excuse” + “haters gonna hate”

    Is this not just a variety of one of those?

    • Haters gonna hate is only implied…The Saint’s Excuse is shot through the whole statement. But there is also the theme of “you don’t understand me” and “all I can do is to keep on my virtuous path; I can’t help what other choose to throw in my path!” or…it’s not me, its them (you.) No?

  2. This situation highlights an essential problem with the intersection of sports, particularly professional sports, and ethics. Is the point of playing games to win the game or to have a good time? Think back to the backyard when we were kids picking sides for a game of baseball or football or smearball. If you were picking, and had first pick, did you pick the smartest kid, the most eloquent one, the best dressed one, the kindest, most thoughtful one? Maybe, but more likely you picked the most athletic one.

    Let’s recount the bidding on Hope Solo. I’m not a soccer expert and certainly not a soccer goalie expert, but let’s take it on faith that Hope Solo is a great soccer goalie and certainly the very best in her game in her time. She also seems to be a fairly unpleasant person with all sorts of demons. I’m guessing she had a very rough, hard-scrabble childhood. She probably matured early physically and may even have been molested by adult men. She’s pretty masculine. She may have things to deal with on the gender identity front. She’s probably hyperactive or suffers from ADHD. Maybe she’s dyslexic. Maybe she can’t read (and can’t sit still) but she has extraordinary spatial perception abilities as do many dyslexia sufferers. Which makes for a great soccer goalie but not such a great student. I bet she medicates with all sorts of depressants and alcohol so she can get to sleep or just stop her brain from racing.

    So the Swedes “park the bus” and upset the U.S. women’s team. The Swedes don’t play to score a goal, they play to stop the U.S. team from scoring and hope to mount one or two fluky counter-attacks and eke out a victory. The strategy is the equivalent of Ali’s rope-a-dope or Dean Smith’s four corners. Neither of which were boxing or basketball, respectively.
    Hope Solo spends the entire game eighty yards away from the action knowing full well the Swedes may pull it off. Ninety minutes. An hour and a half. She can’t do a thing. And then the Swedes successfully mount a break away counter attack, Solo is truly solo (and without hope). Outnumbered, she surrenders a goal. Her team loses.

    Teams park the bus because they have inferior players. It’s the strategy the U.S. men’s team deployed exclusively for years and years before Jurgen Klinsmann was hired and began playing German kids with actual soccer skills who were fathered by American servicemen. Parking the bus is not good soccer. If any other player or person affiliated with the U.S. soccer establishment had an ounce of honesty, their response to Solo’s heated, honest statement right after a crushingly ignominious defeat would have been something along the lines of “Damn straight.” If you were to poll the Swedish players, given transactional immunity I bet even they would say, “Yeah, you know what, she’s right. Parking the bus like we did is totally chicken shit. But hey, we won! Hah!”

    And sure, parking the bus is completely within the rules and therefore ethical. So was the four corners until the NCAA put in a shot clock. Boxers are not allowed to go into a defensive crouch. The referee is allowed to make them fight or award the match to the opponent who is willing and able to fight. But was it any fun watching North Carolina win a game 12 to 8? No. Did anyone feel good about doing so? They shouldn’t have. Does anyone care to watch a boxer wear out an opponent by letting him pound on his back and arms for nine rounds and then fail to defend himself against a late flurry and get knocked out or lose on points? No. Sports are meant to be played, not gamed. Was it ethical for the Swedes to park the bus? No. Was it legal? Yes. Was it sportsmanlike? No.

    Let’s go back to Jim Kaat, the other player who called the team that beat him cowards. As Jack poignantly pointed out, Kitty Kaat had just lost a game at the end of a season where he’d nearly pitched his arm off to get his team in a position to get to the World Series. At the time, Jim Kaat was a ballplayer. He wasn’t head of corporate communications. He wasn’t an agent. He wasn’t a motivational speaker. He was a ballplayer (and “If you’re a ballplayer, there ain’t much to bein’ a ballplayer”—Rogers Hornsby).
    So let’s let Hope Solo be a ballplayer. She can say what she said in the heat following a brutal loss. She makes her living playing a game. People at her level are not playing to pass the time after school or have fun. So she’s not gracious. She has fast twitch muscles and great eye sight and a weird brain that allows her to anticipate balls flying at her out of a mass of arms and legs.

    And yes, U.S. soccer firing her and suspending her is a joke. Her contract, like all the other women’s contracts) was up in six months. There aren’t any games at all scheduled in the next six months. It’s probably time to let a younger goalie get ready, although I would wager Hope Solo will be in goal in Tokyo. She’s an extraordinary talent and even at an advanced age I bet she’ll beat out all the younger goalies. Surprisingly, she will be “rehabilitated.”

    But to conclude, mixing ethics and professional sports is a very, very fraught exercise. I think a Lee Corso “Not so fast, my friend” is in order.

    • Interesting commentary, Other Bill. I don’t follow sports except for baseball but I get the arguments, all the way up to the conclusion. As Jack’s post put it, the unethical points didn’t begin at the final game, they ended there, after a long reign in the life of a king. That was just one of the jewels that fell out of the crown, but it exemplified the fact that the crown had been badly flawed in the first place, no?

      • Oh heck yeah, she’s been problematic her entire career, quite evidently. But she’s also quite evidently been an absolute stud in a professional sports environment. Which was evidently just fine with everybody, until she was in her late thirties and the next women’s world cup is two years away and the next Olympics is four years away. If the women’s team were playing a critical game later this week, she’d be right in goal after they’d glossed over the whole thing with an expensive crisis manager and all sorts of earnest, professionally written apologies, etc.

        • I guess I’m saying you’re always going to have the King’s Pass issued for lots of professional athletes because it’s an enterprise dominated by, and in desperate need of, high performance athletes (aka, Kings for God’s sake) who are not paid for their humanity. They are paid and prized for their athletic ability. They’re all freaks of nature. If you expect them to all be normal, considerate, thoughtful human beings as well, you’ve got a long, unfruitful wait coming. That’s all.

  3. If Ms. Solo will do what Ms. Jenny LANG, the coach of Chinese women’s volley ball team, had done, then may be, she deserves a free pass; but alas, Ms. Solo has not even come close in accomplishments and in decency. We need to look for the good examples, instead of keep looking at the bottom of barrels… As to US Soccer… no surprises there either…

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