MONTREAL – Hope Solo has done one exclusive interview since the start of the Women's World Cup. It took place in Winnipeg and it was conducted by Julianna Raposo.
Raposo is an eighth grader. She is 13.
The interview came about because Raposo's physical education teacher at Henry G. Izatt Middle School in Manitoba sent a tweet to Solo months ago to inform her that one of his students could use some confidence and inspiration. "She was a little bit lost," said the teacher, Blue Jay Bridge. "She was in an emotional place." Solo, the United States' star goalkeeper, is Raposo's favorite athlete, so much so that she had written H-O-P-E S-O-L-O across her fingers. ("I thought it was Han Solo," Bridge said.)
After several tries, Bridge heard back from Solo's camp. She accepted and would visit when the U.S. team was in town. So Bridge turned it into an assignment. Raposo would have to do a real interview and write up a report.
"There will be other people just like you who are thinking, 'I'm a bit lost, too,' " Bridge said. "To hear how people cope and succeed is really important."
Raposo got her list of topics together and Solo came to the school early in June. There were no questions about Solo's domestic violence incident and the fallout from it. But some of the things Solo said were revealing and instructive.
"I wanted to know how Hope deals with negativity in the media and what strategies she uses to get through it," Raposo wrote in her report. "When she started speaking you almost hear the pains of her past. She said that she wishes she could say that the words don't bother her and that she has a thick skin but in reality she is only human. People's words and assumptions can hurt. She's heard the famous words of 'Don't let it get to you.' But she does …"
Solo has been virtually silent in the press during the World Cup, answering fewer than a handful of questions after the Americans' first game against Australia, and then not again since. On Friday, she set what may be the quietest record ever – passing Briana Scurry for most career wins by a U.S. women's goalkeeper with 134. Solo did it by shutting out China in a 1-0 quarterfinal win and extending her streak of not conceding a goal to 423 minutes.
Asked about the record after the match, head coach Jill Ellis hesitated and had to be reminded which record she was being asked about. "Wins," someone said.
In almost any other sport, this kind of achievement would be one of the biggest stories of the year. There would be countless interviews, special television features, written profiles. Here, Solo has been seen and not heard – a looming presence on the field and a ghost off of it.
Some people may not mind this at all. Quite a few fans would prefer Solo not be on the team after her arrest last year. Others understand her reticence, as any media interview would certainly turn into a grilling about what she may or may not have done on that June night in 2014 – even though the case was dismissed when her accusers repeatedly failed to show up to testify.
Solo's silence is such a far cry from 2007, when her quotes about Scurry's lackluster performance in a World Cup semifinal defeat gave her an instant (and somewhat unfair) reputation as a loudmouth. She was the rare female athlete who would unapologetically say what was on her mind, and that made her a leader to some if a pariah to others.
That candor is missing from this tournament. Solo has an important message to send to a lot of people watching – people like Raposo. Yes, she has done wrong. Yet as Raposo's teacher recognized, Solo's personal journey is valuable for younger fans to learn about and understand. Her struggles with confidence and anger are extremely common in our society, and rarely discussed openly.
More rare still is what Solo has done about her obstacles. She has gotten therapy and she plans to continue after the World Cup has ended. Her husband, Jerramy Stevens, has pledged to do the same. Mental health is still taboo in this country, and those who publicly acknowledge their need to address and improve it are brave to do so.
There has been plenty written about Ali Krieger removing her clothing for a national magazine to empower young women to feel good about their health and image. But Solo's journey is far more significant and potentially empowering. Regardless of what she has done, millions are paying attention to what she does now, and her ability to concentrate and thrive on the field during this tournament is no small feat. Clearly, therapy has helped.
On her personal blog, Solo wrote back in March about the moment she spoke with her teammates about her legal problems. "I talked about how hard it had been going through the court case with my family," she wrote, "and explained why I hadn't been that approachable at camp. I'd been trying to focus while I was on the field, but I'd been a mess emotionally and mentally, and spent most nights crying with my roommate away from the team."
Surely, that confession was a major personal step for Solo, and she was greeted with a hug and "apology accepted" from one of her teammates. She vowed after that to remember "how important it was for me to be more open with them."
So she decided to send an email to her teammates and open up even more.
"I let them know what I had been doing in the time I'd been away. I told them that for the first time in my life, I'd been seeing a therapist and dealing with a lot of my issues, and finally addressing all the pain and anger that was inside of me." During her 30-day suspension for being in the team van with Stevens after he had been drinking, Solo said she committed herself to a new start. "Ultimately," she wrote, "I wanted to be a better person and teammate."
The legal aspect of Solo's saga, as well as the handling (or mishandling) of the investigation by U.S. Soccer, are separate from how she's facing her demons. Whether she should be playing with the team or not, how she lives after the World Cup is over will be a large part of her legacy and what she means to young soccer players. Soon, the media spotlight will move away from Solo, but the attention paid by kids across the continent will not abate.
"It's OK to fall," Raposo wrote, "but you need to brush yourself off and keep on going and always be true to you!!"
Even if Solo never says another word in the public eye, that kind of message is one she can uniquely deliver.