#360USA: Little Hope as goalkeeper goes Solo

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Outspoken and unwanted: Hope Solo's international career is on the brink.

Timing is everything. For Hope Solo, arguably the greatest United States women’s goalkeeper of all time, however, her time is unceremoniously up after a nightmare Olympic campaign.

She was suspended for six months this week after an astonishing outburst in Brazil following a shock defeat to eventual winners Sweden, leaving her international career in tatters.

At the next World Cup she will be 38. The end is nigh but it should have come sooner.

It could have come when news broke of the domestic violence assault case two years ago which is yet to be resolved.

Perhaps when she was caught drink driving with her husband in a US Soccer-branded van last January, the axe should have fallen then.

But she was at the top of her game. Fast forward to this month however and some patchy displays seem to suggest otherwise.

A nightmare against Colombia in the final group match set alarms bells ringing and US Soccer chief Sunil Gulati, a man with a penchant for dithering, saw the perfect opportunity to kick Solo into touch. His reason? Well, she called Sweden a bunch of cowards.

Such was Solo’s ire after seeing her gold medal dream ruined by an ultra-defensive Swedish side, her words were not minced afterwards.

And to be fair, further interviews that evening were far more circumspect. Yet Gulati and chums had seen, and heard, enough.

“The comments by Hope Solo after the match against Sweden were unacceptable and do not meet the standard of conduct we require from our National Team players,” Gulati said.

Fair enough. Though there’s much more to this.

Solo was, after all, an athlete trying to dissect one of the most disappointing results of her career. Players aren’t always at their most cognizant moments after a match.

Thierry Henry found it difficult to adjust to the American system of allowing journalists into the dressing room straight after matches. The France legend often came off moody and irritable when a microphone was stuck in his face.

The same can be said for Solo, a passionate, proud player who clearly has enough troubles off the field to keep her paymasters busy.

“I could not be the player I am without being the person I am, even when I haven’t made the best choices or said the right things,” said the keeper who has also taken an indefinite break from domestic soccer.

Team-mates have been disappointed with her outbursts. Few will shed tears. Coward-gate, claims Gulati, was the straw which broke the camel’s back.

Though from the outside looking in, it seems like an open goal of an opportunity to get rid of a potentially disruptive character, especially at a time when women players are fighting like mad in a tense battle with US Soccer bosses over the contentious details of the current CBA agreement.

“There is definitely a cumulative effect when it comes to Hope,” a highly-placed source told Sport360. “Yet undoubtedly US Soccer have handled it very poorly.”

You can bring her dubious back catalogue of hits into question – yet her two most-high profile blemishes earned her no more than a slap on the wrists.

Solo's controversies

  • 2012 - Partner Jerremy Stevens arrested for assaulting Solo. The pair wed the next day.
  • 2014 - Arrested and charged with assault.
  • 2015 - Solo and Stevens are arrested for drink driving.
  • 2016 - Booed by fans in Brazil after Zika virus tweets.

US Soccer stood by Solo after a drunken altercation with her nephew which resulted in a domestic violence charge. The details remain unproven in a court of law, even if some of the evidence makes her look anything but a role model.

But play in a World Cup and Olympics with all that hanging over her head? No problem.

Indeed, just two months later, US Soccer were making a very public song and dance about her race to win the clean sheet record.

She was soon given the captain’s armband.

A 30-day ban was rightly dished out at the start of 2015 following the drink drive incident.

Yet, crucially, now her star has fallen, the bungling suits have the perfect cue to act – even if they’re blatantly lying about the real reasons. How nice of them.

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#360USA: Goodell leaves NFL stars in the cold

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Goodell is a divisive figure.

It never rains but pours for Roger Goodell.

The NFL season has yet to begin though the fun continues for the power hungry commissioner who is forever fighting fires.

The furore caused by a controversial report into performance enhancing drug abuse in baseball and American football by the now defunct Al Jazeera America is raging and beginning to once again resemble another poorly dealt with situation by the suits who run America’s No1 sport.

While the MLB have acted decisively by exonerating Ryan Howard of the Phillies and Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman from anything untoward [both are suing Al Jazeera], the NFL have dragged their knuckles in public.

And, just like the mess caused by Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Tom Brady et al, it’s causing further divisions between the players and their all powerful bosses in New York.

The four under question – Green Bay’s Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison and Mike Neal, formerly of the Packers but now without a club – have been refusing to speak to the NFL since the story broke last year.

Their legal counsel, and the NFL Players Association [NFLPA], maintained there is no evidence to support the claims launched in the documentary. Suspension threats have been thrown around. They have finally relented and will meet investigators in the next few days.

There has been a severe breakdown in trust between the union and Goodell, which is manifesting itself here.

“Somebody could say James Harrison is a paedophile. Are they going to suspend me, put me under investigation for being a paedophile just because somebody said it?” argued Harrison who also branded Goodell a “crook”.

No-one has backed up the claims made by Al Jazeera. Their main target, Peyton Manning, has been fully cleared. Charles Sly, a pharmacist who was filmed dishing the dirt on a hidden camera, has since denied everything.

The player’s position is understandable. They feel they are being hung out to dry while adhering to the drug policy.

Following a 2014 season littered with domestic violence, the NFL launched its own investigative department. They can’t throw legal weight around but making an example of Tom Brady for refusing to co-operate in ‘Deflategate’ sent out a message.

But if they want change with the way the League and its commissioner do business, it would have been monumental for them to stand their ground, even if there are six years until the next collective bargaining agreement talks.

The NFL maintain they are just doing their jobs, especially in this age of systematic doping problems in sport, and has told the union there’s evidence beyond just what’s been reported publicly.

Whatever the outcome, this should have been ended sooner. Deflategate went on too long.

Yet Goodell, ever the confrontational supremo, retains full support in the large majority of boardrooms up and down the country. The NFL wants the revenue monster to spew out $25 billion by 2027. Last year it was $13bn, up from $8.5bn in 2010.

Owners, on the whole, like him. It’s the players and their union who continue to wage battle after battle.

Goodell is more interested in dollar bills than concussed linebackers. And therein lies the problem.

Goodell, celebrating a decade in charge later this month, is pushing voraciously for more franchises and more games. He has wanted 18-game seasons for years.

Establishing even stronger links with London is also on the ‘to-do list’ and would be a key driver in boosting revenue streams.

Naturally, the players are against more games. How much more can their battered bodies take, even if the League coffers would benefit?

The impasse is striking at the heart of the NFL – and player power is taking an almighty hit.

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360USA: NBC the biggest losers at Rio 2016

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Headline act: Simone Biles.

There are 28 sports being contested at the Olympics. Here in the United States however, an extra discipline is on offer. NBC bashing is an event played by millions. Forget medals – competitors are spurred on by fury and indignation at being deprived live TV moments of sporting history.

The Twitter hashtag #nbcfail keeps everyone fully updated as to how poorly the US host broadcaster performs. Some believe their coverage is the worst of all time.

Ever since NBC first screened the Games in 1988, their approach to broadcasting has left sports fans here muddled and confused. The Olympics isn’t seen as a sporting event but more a TV reality show.

And driven voraciously by sponsors who pay millions for advertising – the incessant commercial breaks are mind-numbing – bosses are under orders to ensure women, as well as men, tune in.

In NBC’s warped thinking, the fairer sex aren’t interested in the pure sporting event. No, they steadfastly, and wrongly, believe the human interest element trumps all. So instead of showing the best action live and providing detailed insight and analysis, it’s delayed until later in the evening, neatly packaged into easily watchable highlights.OLYMPICS TRACKER-01

Interestingly, despite Team USA boasting an all-time record amount of female athletes, only 28 of NBC’s 128-strong commentary team are women. The editing process also seems to erase the presence of anyone who doesn’t have the Stars and Stripes emblazoned on their chests.

Back in the day, there was no Twitter. No 24-hour rolling news cycles. It meant this bewildering approach kind of worked. In 2016, however, it most certainly doesn’t.

Earlier this week, the levels of absurdity hit the roof. The amazing US gymnastics team, led by the sensational Simone Biles, have been long trumpeted by the grinning NBC cheerleaders as the story of these Games.

Yet it wasn’t screened live. Viewers had to wait until 20:00 – a full five hours since Biles was presented with gold – to watch it. And even then, the footage was broken up by constant switches to live swimming.

In NBC’s defence, everything is available online. More than 4,500 hours of live event competition including live streaming coverage of everything is available. The ‘Gold Zone’ option neatly breaks up the screen to include all events where medals are about to be decided.

Still, many sports fans, including those in the older generations, don’t want to sit fiddling with their smartphones or laptops to tune into something the rest of the world is handed on a plate.

Once the technology is perfected, that’s the way viewers of the future will choose their sporting poisons. But for now, simplicity should be key. Turn on, sit back and enjoy.

“The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans. More women watch than men; the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey,” said John Miller, NBC Olympics chief marketing officer.

“It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and miniseries wrapped into one.”

The opening ceremony was shambolically presented by cringeworthy morning chat show hosts, hours after everyone else had been enjoying it.

“I have been told by several people in the broadcasting industry they need to attract more women to get their viewer numbers up for their advertisers,” Olympic coach and former NBC analyst Bob Prichard told Sport360. “I was not rehired because they said my analysis was too technical.”

The decision is driven by satisfying sponsorship partners. NBC spent $1.2 billion for coverage rights – 2,500 employees are in Rio.

During the 1992 Olympics, they used so much electricity, they ordered five huge generators because Barcelona couldn’t cope. In London, they had their very own Starbucks built in their compound. The money needs to be taken back somehow. But shredding viewer satisfaction is plain wrong.

“The streaming appeals to fans weaned on the ESPN style of 24-hour news,” added Galen Clavio, an associate professor of sports media at the Indiana University Media School. “The question is, will that be enough?”

No, it won’t.

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