Monthly Archives: August 2015

Containing the Bad Girl: Hope Solo’s Social Media Branding Versus Authenticity in Women’s Soccer

Hope Solo is a bad girl, a train wreck, a fiasco.

.@AlexiLalas speaks out about Hope Solo. The #USWNT press conference is coming up next on FS1!

— FOX Sports 1 (@FOXSports1) June 7, 2015

But she’s also a superstar and a huge figure in not only women’s sports but sports in general. Soccer broadcasters have to talk about her because she makes noise and money. While other world-class players miss their anti-doping checks and get written about only on soccer blogs, Hope Solo’s perennial issues gain far more sports section ink than almost any other soccer player in the U.S., male or female. Despite the fact that she has consistently been named the best goalkeeper in the world and her on-field and off-field life has done a great deal toward raising the profile of women’s soccer in the last eight years, her talent has always gone hand-in-hand with her “bad” behavior. Solo made her mark on the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) in the 2007 World Cup with truly spectacular play, but it was her comments following the US loss in the semifinals that cemented the Hope Solo persona. She was benched in the game in favor of the legendary but out-of-form Brianna Scurry who hadn’t played internationally in months. Visibly upset after the game but still required to do the press rounds, Solo told a reporter: “[Starting Scurry] was the wrong decision. And I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that. 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.” Then the soccer world imploded and the US Soccer apparatus began to treat Hope Solo as a kind of necessary evil.

As a goalkeeper and a USWNT fan since the 1999 World Cup, Solo was the player I was most invested in, and I couldn’t help thinking she was right. I–and I assume myriad other fans–thought and said the exact same thing. What was the coach thinking? Solo’s on a hot-streak! But immediately, news leaked about the USWNT ostracizing Solo. The prevailing talking point among broadcasters–who would have said the same thing–was you don’t say that to a reporter; you keep it in the locker room. Following that moment of infamy, Solo’s pattern was established: She performs excellently between the posts, inevitably says or does something that US Soccer doesn’t think appropriate or that is illegal, and spends the next few months rehabilitating her image within both the team and the media. This is not to say that the allegations she has been involved with–her husband’s DUI, his domestic abuse, her alcohol problems, and her domestic abuse–are not serious. They are, even if most remain only allegations and rumors. But the strained relationship with US Soccer is the true constant of the Hope Solo persona.

Thus, when Hope Solo started posting to instagram with her personal logo embedded in each image in March 2015, it reads as containment. The inclusion of the logo creates a barrier to authenticity. The Hope Solo brand is one that we assume has to pass through a gatekeeper to approve the content. That separate step of adding the logo indicates that Solo didn’t merely snap the picture and upload it in the moment. Solo uploaded a few pictures to instagram without the logo during the spring of 2015, including up to the last post before the US won the Algarve Cup, the last tournament before the World Cup.

March 10, 2015: 

March 11, 2015: USWNT win Algarve Cup, Solo saves PK

But following that win, the next instagram upload features the logo. The Algarve Cup cemented that the USWNT needed Solo for the World Cup, despite the looming potential of a court case. With the USWNT players seemingly pushed toward more social media interaction as part of the ramp-up to the World Cup as well as during the World Cup in the summer of 2015, Solo’s social media presence is an outlier in that branding filter. In part, it’s about Hope Solo as the product, one of the most prominent female athletes in the US and thus a monetized brand, but so are Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe, neither of whom adds a logo to their pictures. As the only one with that, Solo comes off as either arrogant or contained, far removed from the brand of authenticity that women’s soccer desires to cultivate.

March 27, 2015: 

Compare the Solo posts with those of other players, even on the official USWNT instagram account. Morgan Brian and Amy Rodriguez whisper-scream their excitement after beating Germany.

Teammates participate in piggyback rides.

And throughout the USWNT instagram account, picture after picture portrays these world class athletes in a “just like you” light. They play pranks, they joke with each other, they make weird faces and ham it up for the camera, and more than anything they seem authentic and even approachable. That’s the brand for the USWNT, and it’s one dictated by gender ideology. Our women’s team is better than our men’s team, demonstrably so, and soccer is still a minor sport in the US regardless of gender, so US Soccer chose authenticity, approachability, and the illusion of closeness to make the relatively small sport supporter base feel part of the action. The USWNT brand focuses on engagement over image. Hope Solo does the opposite. She rarely videotapes anything, her images are usually fairly posed or even professionally photographed, and that damn logo makes sure you know she’s not just like you. She has her own brand. And that brand is paramount, even when taking a picture of a teammate’s birthday celebration.

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Happy 40th birthday @christierampone3!

A post shared by Hope Solo (@hopesolo) on

The Hope Solo logo is a rupture in the regime of authenticity that is demanded of women’s soccer. It’s not just the USWNT, although that is the largest platform for that. NWSL teams like the Houston Dash create promotional videos and images that continue in this mode or approachability. It’s heady and it works. But what Hope Solo’s persona and her logo remind us of is that it’s a brand that is deeply indebted to gender ideology that requires female athletes to be “nice” and “good” to counteract their physical domination on the field. Hope Solo’s original sin of criticizing her fellow goalkeeper and her coach to a reporter may not have been the best choice, but if she had respond to the reporter with “I’m just here so I don’t get fined,” she likely would have faced the same excoriation from the press because she wasn’t “nice” enough. Ironic that her one moment of true authenticity set the wheels in motion for Hope Solo to be the disruptor of authenticity.