Wednesday, September 24, 2014

HOPE SOLO, CLINT DEMPSEY, AND SOCCER'S IMAGE PROBLEM


When Clint Dempsey went 'uncover' for ESPN and walked the streets of New York
City to find out if people recognized him, it was hardly shocking that few people did.
Dempsey, the team captain of the United States World Cup team and best player
in the country, could've worn his full uniform with his name on the front and back of
the jersey and people still wouldn't have a clue who he is.

"Who is Clint Dempey?"

As for Hope Solo, well, that's a completely story. She is one of the best players in
the history of women's soccer and if she walked down the streets of New York
far more people would recognize her than Dempsey. It's not because of her talent,
Dempsey is far more impressive on the pitch than Solo, but it's because Solo has an
edge--a sharp and cutting one. She is a lighting rod and a magnet for controversy
and in this country and with our media, that is what sells.  She is far more popular
or well known than Dempsey or any other player, male or female, will ever be and
for all the wrong reasons.

Solo is back in the spotlight and under the microscope for two reasons. One, she
is awaiting trial on domestic charges and after the firestorm in the NFL surrounding
Ray Rice, people want to know why Solo is still playing for U.S. Soccer. Secondly,
someone hacked a computer and leaked nude photos and put them on the Internet
for the entire world to see. Most of the world saw Solo in the buff  a few years ago
when she posed for ESPN's "The Nude" issue and that didn't leave much for the
imagination.

Now, the game of soccer is getting something it has always craved for: attention.
Except for the World Cup every few years where everybody jumps on the bandwagon
until the U.S. loses, which is quickly for the most part, nobody really cares that
much about the sport. It still ranks far, far, and far behind the major sports in
this country and when the best player in the country, Clint Dempsey, goes on
the streets of New York and nobody recognize him, well, that's pretty sad.


So, despite all the drama and controversy Solo is bringing, do you really think
the leaders of the sport are all that upset about it? Doubt it. What's the old saying?
Bad publicity is better than no publicity at all. By the end of the day Wednesday,
you can expect to see Solo featured on ESPN, CNN, Fox,  TMZ, Access Hollywood
Inside Edition, and just about every news outlet and source in the country, not
to mention the world. Sorry, but Dempsey or men's soccer could never buy
that amount of publicity.

Solo is a rock star in soccer and is on the cusp of being a household name. She
is Richard Sherman in cleats: talented, outspoken,  and controversial. Sherman
had a meteoric rise in the sport and in the national consciousness after dressing
down Michael Crabtree in the NFC Championship. To some people, this was
low-class, disrespectful, and bush league. To others, Sherman became hot and
a "personality" they had to have on talk shows, magazines, and incredibly, as
a spokesman and pitch man for their company. That's right, rip an opponent and
be rewarded.

Sherman probably learned that lesson from watching Solo during the 2007 World
Cup when she was benched by coach Greg Ryan in favor of Briana Scurry for
the semifinal game against Brazil. Solo called out her coach and it went viral,
making her the most well-known player on the team:

"It was the wrong decision, and I think anybody that knows anything about the
game knows that," she said. "There's no doubt in my mind I would have made
those saves. And the fact of the matter is it's not 2004 anymore. ... It's 2007, and
I think you have to live in the present. And you can't live by big names. You
can't live in the past. It doesn't matter what somebody did in an Olympic gold
medal game in the Olympics three years ago. Now is what matters, and that's
what I think."

Solo had the talent and the media now felt she had the edginess to make
her the one to go to for the quotes and features. She became the "it" girl in soccer
not for her talent, but for her controversial nature. It didn't stop there, Solo
got into a scuffle with her then-fiance' Jeremy Stevens, a former NFL player.
He got arrested, then they got married a few days later. She's been on 'Dancing
With the Stars' and a cover girls for hundreds of magazines. As for Dempsey?
Yeah, well, he's been on the cover of Xbox game but he still can't get recognized
on the streets on New York City.


Do you really think the heads of U.S. Soccer are going to ban or suspend Solo?
Are you kidding me? She is the one who sells tickets, draws ratings, and attracts
the attention the sport needs. I'm sorry, but if this were the NFL, I'd think
differently. But soccer in this country is far away from being the NFL as I am
from being Brad Pitt. Sadly, the game needs Solo. She is one of the few stars
that would be recognized on the streets of New York.

Soccer needs her more than she needs soccer. Sad, but true.

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