Solo, Scurry, and the USWNT – JordanCornblog Weighs In

In the run-up to the Oly’s it’s interesting to read the analysis being posted about the whole Solo-Scurry-Ryan episode at the 2007 Women’s World Cup. Following on the heels of the SI piece by Grant Wahl, we have commentary from:

  • Sideline Views – in which Andrea Canales cites Anson Dorrance and the way he tapped into “the mother instinct” as at the root of the USWNT’s response to Hope Solo. She depicts a team in which “groupthink” and the pack mentality have held sway for decades now, and cites evidence to support that view. (Leaves me wondering about Tony DiCicco … who put in a few serious years with the Nats, too.)
  • From a Left Wing – in which Jennifer Doyle looks at the USWNT and the whole Solo episode. She, too, takes it as representative of a “groupthink” atmosphere on the team and examines it through the prism of class.

I love the debate and issues raised, and yet am disturbed by the assumptions that continue to be presented as though they are facts (unless, of course, folks know a lot more about the personalities and inner workings of the USWNT than I do … which is entirely possible).

But, pursuing that point, aren’t we are on thin ice when we theorize about why particular individuals on the team did what they did – especially based on the slim “facts” available? I mean, do we really think that Cat Whitehill’s UNC background (and accompanying Anson Dorrance indoctrination) somehow led to her “shunning” of Hope? Might they have had some issues entirely unrelated to goalie-gate?

I don’t mean to ignore the points made about class. It’s an issue that Tiffeny Milbrett’s journey certainly brings to mind – as a player who always did seem on the periphery for some difficult-to-pin-down reason. When I read interviews where I seem to remember her broaching this subject, I always felt like she came across as having a chip on her shoulder. It could sound like she wanted to be Mia Hamm and have the adulation that went along with it all. But she wasn’t … and she didn’t … and she seemed perennially upset about that. Was that about class? Or was it maybe about having a chip on her shoulder? (And if Tiffeny felt victimized because she didn’t get the attention that Mia did, does that mean that Tiffeny actually was being victimized in some way?) It was probably some combination of the two … and this is total speculation on my part anyway. (Yup – doing the thing I was just decrying in others!)

I have to say that I have been really bothered – maybe most bothered – by the “sorority” label being applied to this team. And maybe this is where I need to take a deeper breath and a harder look at my own biases and assumptions.

What I loved about the “old” USWNT was the broad feminist perspective that they brought to the soccer enterprise. (I know this wasn’t a perspective shared by everyone – but it was the ethos of that team.) Far from being conformist group-thinkers, this was the bunch who would take the USSF right to the mat for quaint, cutesy, sorority-type issues like equal pay. This was the bunch who consulted Billie Jean King and used their fame and success to spread the word about soccer and athletics and empowerment to girls and young women.

That’s not to say that I think they were saints. I am sure they were not. But was there tons of bitterness and backbiting and conflict that was kept hidden? Were dissenting views not tolerated? Has the USWNT always been the UNC-spawned Gulag that some feel it was for Hope? I just don’t see it.

So what am I starting to think about this whole episode? What are the wild assumptions that I make, so that it can all feel sensible to me? Okay – here goes: I think it had to do with changes in the leadership within the team. Much as I absolutely love Lil – she definitely seems one of those lead-by-example types. She’s not a leader in the mold of Julie Foudy or Carla Overbeck. In what happened after the Brazil game, from Solo’s outburst to the “shunning,” I think we were seeing fallout from the loss of those two team leaders (with Foudy being the more recent and arguably the more telling loss).

I see the team, post-Brazil, as stressed and devastated and relatively rudderless. (Hope wasn’t the only devastated player on the team – they all were.) Greg Ryan was focused on covering his butt. IMHO, he proceeded, in cowardly and utterly shameful fashion, to use vague terms like “team leaders” to deflect and diffuse responsibility.

Maybe I’m all wet – but I am coming to feel that had there been a Foudy or an Overbeck there in Beijing this past October … things might have played out quite differently. Just looking at the personalities involved, and fully acknowledging that it’s speculation … still, it’s very hard for me to imagine those events happening under their watch.

So what happened in Beijing ’07?  Poor coaching by the inimitable Greg Ryan, impulsive choices by Hope, lack of leadership from Lil … and the rest is history. (And I do wish that Hope would let this truly become history … stop granting interviews that foment further debate and speculation by the likes of me … and find another way to work this through for herself.)

I am so pleased that Pia is on board and the team is moving on … and hopefully this next trip to Beijing will see a different outcome, both on the pitch and off!

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2 Responses to Solo, Scurry, and the USWNT – JordanCornblog Weighs In

  1. I’ve wondered about that, too and wish that someone (you perhaps?) would write about that old(er), more marginalized USWNT from an academic/sociological perspective. It seemed a wonderful convergence of opportunities, challenges, unique team leaders, and maybe a coach (DiCicco) who was unusually enlightened.

    But then the very thing that made it all “wonderful” in my eyes may have exacerbated the challenges faced by the up-and-comers. Included among those challenges … a much less insulated and homogeneous team where issues like those you explicated would, I imagine, become potentially more divisive.

    Throw in the WUSA, the bizarre (and perhaps punishing) coaching choices of the USSF, the ongoing interplay of personalities, the retirements of key players (key as leaders more than for their field play in the end), the changes in the national political climate … and I think it would be a real potboiler of a case study! Maybe what it boils down to is a reflection of the dangers of success … šŸ˜‰


  2. thanks for engaging my blog article – i really enjoyed reading this post, and very much agree regarding the USWNT from years past, and the way they fought for equal pay, and, well, just the team they were. maybe part of the difference is how marginalized they were in the beginning? that those women from the earlier team configurations saw the sport through its transition, where the current players deal with the stress of being *so* dominant, and also relatively public? anyway, it’s good to have thoughtful commentary on this stuff.


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