A Little Something To Chew On

Yup. I went there. This IS about Luis Suarez and his apparent inability to control his mouth and Hope Solo and her apparent inability to control..I don’t know – drinking maybe? Anger?

These two people have more in common than you might first think. Suarez is a repeat offender having bitten people at least 2 times prior to his World Cup snack. Solo has a history of involvement in a domestic violence situation, on the night before her wedding – although not as the alleged aggressor – prior to her arrest this past weekend. Suarez is a very good soccer player. Solo is a very good soccer player. Both play for club and country. Both have been disciplined by their respective teams, Suarez for club and Solo for country. Both have brought their share of glory and negativity to the sport.

There are also glaring differences. The most obvious is that Suarez is male and Solo is female. Suarez plays for a prestigious men’s side with all the advantages that provides. Solo plays for one of nine teams in a U.S. women’s league trying survive in a pro sports environment. Suarez is being investigated by FIFA and Solo is being charged by Municipal authorities. Suarez faces a fine and suspension, Solo faces a fine and jail time.

Before I go further let me say with no ambiguity that I do not condone violence, domestic or otherwise and I do not condone biting an opponent during a soccer game, but having said that, I do have issues with the way people, journalists and just Janes and Joes, are treating the two offenses and the two players involved.

Suarez’s is the most recent, so I’ll start there. The man bit another player, blatantly, unapologetically and then blamed it on the other guy. This is not the first time or the second, but the third. Twice for club and now once for country. If it was done off the pitch to a family member he could be charged with domestic violence. See where I’m going with this? He has been fined and suspended for both the 1st and 2nd offenses and is now being investigated for the 3rd. Chances are they will give him another fine and suspension, bigger and longer than the first two. He has been given 2 chances to change his behavior and likely will get a third. Is it because of his gender and his ability and his celebrity? Yes and yes and yes. If he was not a talented male sports star he probably would have seen jail time. Not a lot, but the law does not look kindly on repeat offenders. Journalists and Janes and Joes are all over the board on this. Some say ban him from the game. Some say give him a break, he’s under a lot of stress. Some think it’s funny, some don’t. At the end of the day, Suarez hasn’t changed his behavior. He’s a role model, you say? The little boys, and girls, look up to him? All the more reason to make this a teaching moment of what not to do and how to recover if you do happen to go down this path. Too often we want to keep “offenders” for our own selfish pleasure, but what does that teach? That you are allowed unlimited mistakes? That you don’t have to change? That if you are a talented male sports star you get a pass because we like to see you play? If we truly are concerned about the message we send the kids who look up to him, we have to be willing to be tough and consistent. We have to look past gender and talent and celebrity and deal with the offenses fairly, based on the facts. The facts with Suarez are that he has had 2 chances to change already and hasn’t. He is a repeat offender. Should he be banned from playing? Maybe. If he was on the streets and didn’t change his behavior after the first two offenses he might end up in jail. At the very least he would have a “no contact order”. No contact with the game might be a just sentence.

And now to Solo. Worst case scenario: She is guilty of both counts. She did it, hit her nephew and her sister, was drunk and reacted in anger to taunts thrown at her, was pissed and pissed off. I know everyone cannot related to this scenario, but I have gotten into a drunken disagreement with a family member and if the police had been called I might have ended up in Solo’s shoes. In this scenario she is dead wrong, no excuses. So she’s sentenced, 364 days in jail or $5000, per count, (first time offenders with no criminal record typically don’t get jail time, a fine, counseling and time served usually is the norm, however her nephew is a minor and that may change things). Once she pays her fine and does her court ordered counseling she has paid her debt to society and that should be the end of it, but that’s only in a perfect world. There are also all the personal consequences for her actions; alienated friends and family, lost endorsements, sanction from her job, negative reactions from fans and pundits. And our society’s inability to accept that people are human. They make mistakes and have poor judgement, they violate our codes of conduct and our sensibilities. They also can change and often do when presented with their shortcomings.

People are equating her statements made during the 2007 World Cup with her current charges..not the same people. One has nothing to do with the other and shows no pattern, no matter how hard you look. They also want to throw in her comments on Twitter to Brandi Chastain during the 2012 Olympics..also not the same. Being outspoken does not predict violent behavior. Is it possible she has a problem when she drinks? Absolutely. Is it possible she has a problem controlling her anger when she drinks? Absolutely. Is this a reason to throw her out of the sport? Absolutely not. If she had committed these offenses on the pitch she would likely face a fine and suspension. She most likely would not be thrown off a team, based on the treatment her male counterparts have received. Everyone deserves the chance to change and if they must be judged they deserve to be judged fairly, based on the facts. If she successfully fulfills the requirements of the court, accepts and complies with the sanctions of her employers and does not engage in violent behavior going forward, why shouldn’t she be allowed in the sport? She’s a role model, you say? Little girls, and boys, look up to her? All the more reason to make this a teaching moment of what not to do and how to recover if you do happen to go down this path. Too often we want to get rid of “offenders” to make ourselves feel better, but what does that teach? That you aren’t allowed any mistakes? That you can’t recover from them? That you have to be perfect? If Solo doesn’t comply and does re-offend, have at her. But until that time we owe it to those kids we say we are so concerned about not to send a message of failure, but hope.




I Love Ruining Other Teams’ Seasons..

The title of this post is the gist of a tweet (if not the exact quote) made by an American playing in the Frauen Bundesliga. Her 4th place team had just beaten the 2nd place team  and eliminated them from Champions League play the following season. By losing, the 2nd place team relinquished their spot to the 3rd place team in Champions League play next year.

Yes, it sounds a little confusing if you don’t follow European football. But the details of how Champions League works isn’t really important. What I think is important is the twitter conversation I had following her tweet.

Full disclosure: I favorited her tweet. I am also a fan of team 2 and team 4. I’m not going to quote tweets or name names. I’ll paraphrase. If I don’t do the conversation justice, the parties involved can correct me in the comments, but I’ll do my best to give an honest portrayal of the conversation.

The offending tweet was made, followed very quickly by OP (offended parties): ‘that’s why I don’t follow her anymore’ and ME (my reply) ‘it’s young bravado and killer spirit’.

OP: I don’t want a player that finds joy in sorrow of others, tweets show lack of respect.

ME: Her motivation is to be a spoiler and I don’t think team earned respect this season.

OP:She should shut up, play and learn. She didn’t need to say she enjoys ruining another team’s season, period. Backlash was understandable/inevitable.

ME: I don’t see it that way. Maybe it’s an ugly American thing. Although she could have said it better, she spoke her truth.

OP: Other Americans wouldn’t/don’t talk shit about their opponents. Be happy for yourself, not because someone else is sad.

ME: They think it, they just don’t tweet it. Seen worse tweeted by fans at players. What’s the difference in 3rd place team players thanking 4th place for defeating 2nd place?

OP: Players tweet for clubs, different accountability. 3 needed 4 to win, different.

ME: Players should also be able to tweet their truth, she tweeted after game. Thinking: 3 needed 4 to BEAT 2..same thing.

I think we ended amicably enough, although definitely not in agreement.

It bears mentioning that the player quickly deleted the tweet when objections were made to her, specifically.

Here’s my take on it. The game is a competition. The league is a competition. You try everything in your power to legally win and if you succeed you get the right to gloat a little.The 4th place team had little to play for other than to defeat the 2nd place team and spoil their chance to advance to CL play next year. Their win did not advance them on the ladder and brings no benefits, other than another away win.

If spoiling another team’s chance to advance is your motivation, use it. It’s legal, although some would not see it as ethical, I am not among them. No harm is done to anyone by expressing that sentiment. No injuries are caused and if someones feelings get hurt, it might be their perspective that needs to be checked first.

We all get passionate about the teams we support and some think players should be held to some unjustified higher standard. I look up to players and teams I support, but don’t think they are saints and don’t expect them to behave that way. I expect them to be fair, to be human in all respects and to make comments and decisions I take issue with, but I do not expect them to be something none of us are..perfect.

I will defend the tweet and player in question every time, if I do not sense hostility or a call to violence. It might have been insensitive to tweet it so close to the loss, but I don’t feel it was intended to hurt anyone.

If you have another perspective, I’d love to hear it in the comments.

For The Love of Sport

I never thought my first blog would be about this topic. Over the years many, many things have ruffled my feathers, but this one got under my skin.

I love sport. I love the idea of fair competition, of knowing that rules will be honored. I love that above the rules there is an unspoken expectation that everyone, the fans, the players, the coaches, will give their all to preserve the spirit of the game.  I love the idea that a sport will bring together masses of very different people for one reason, they love sport, too.
Nowhere is the spirit of the game more important than the Olympic Games.

In the name of all the competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams.

That is the Olympic athlete’s oath. Here is the Olympic coach’s oath:

In the name of all the coaches and other members of the athletes’ entourage, I promise that we shall commit ourselves to ensuring that the spirit of sportsmanship and fair play is fully adhered to and upheld in accordance with the fundamental principles of Olympism.

Spirit of sportsmanship, glory of sport, honor of our teams..sounds pretty good to my sport-loving ears. One tiny problem though, one women’s soccer coach didn’t get it..any of it.
During group play of the 2012 Olympic Games the FIFA women’s coach of the year, Norio Sasaki, didn’t get it, none of it. Not the spirit of sportsmanship, the glory of the sport, honor of our teams, not even the spirit of fair play. Norio Sasaki, the winning coach of the 2011 WWC, in a group match against South Africa told his Japan side not to score. South Africa up until this match had no points in their group and no chance of advancing, so why would he tell his team not to score? It really doesn’t take much to figure it out if you looked at the tournament bracket, by Japan playing to a draw instead of a win they would face a team Sasaki thought they would have a better chance to beat.

Smart thinking, you say? Gamesmanship, you say? Disgraceful, I say. Telling his players not to score so they would face an easier opponent goes against everything the Olympic Games stand for. Spirit of sportsmanship? There was no respect for his opponent in playing not to win and no respect for his players by telling them basically he thought they couldn’t win against the best competitors. Glory of sport? No one watching or playing in that game felt any glory, of any kind. Honor of our teams? What kind of honor is it to disrespect your opponent by not playing your best and playing to win? Spirit of fair play? Technically, he did nothing wrong, but that does not mean he didn’t violate the spirit of fair play.

Of all the world’s sporting events the Olympic Games are the pinnacle of playing for the love of the game. Many athletes struggle everyday just to be able to train. They often have to beg and borrow just to get to the events needed to qualify and then having qualified, beg some more for money to actually compete in the Games. For some, playing in the Olympic Games will be the greatest accomplishment of their lives. To disrespect the efforts and struggles of each of those athletes by not playing to win is unforgivable.

FIFA has decided not to discipline their women’s coach of the year, Norio Sasaki. Both FIFA and Sasaki should be ashamed of their decisions.

UPDATE 08.02.12 – It’s been reported that Sasaki said he told his team not to score in order to avoid travel, not to face a more favorable opponent. In my mind that changes nothing.