Hope Solo: A champion for change, equality


Women’s soccer star Hope Solo on the stage at Hall Auditorium October 7,  with Paul Daugherty, sports columnist for the Cincinnati Enquirer. Photo by Massillon Myers.  

By Massillon Myers

Hope Solo doesn’t like the term “feminist.“ She thinks that’s too much of a label.

She fights for equality, mainly the fight for equal pay between the United States men’s and women’s national soccer teams and speaks up about injustices in sport. Solo has played in more games than any other women’s national team player has (202) and kept more shutouts (102) than any goalkeeper in U.S. women’s national team history. Although she retired in 2016, she remains a champion for change.

On Monday, Oct. 7, Solo spoke at Hall Auditorium at Miami University as part of the University Lecture Series. Paul Daugherty, a sports columnist for the Cincinnati Enquirer since 1994, moderated the lecture and asked her questions ranging from her involvement with the fight for equal pay in men’s and women’s sports, the U.S. women’s national team and “Dancing with the Stars.”

Although a lot of broad topics were discussed, Solo wanted to stick to the topic of inequality. 

“I hope that you can take with you something that can help you fight for change,” said Solo at the lecture. “We’re on the precipice of something big. Our rights are not given to us, you have to stand up and you have to fight for them.”

When Solo was 12, she was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her answer? A professional soccer player. At the time there was no professional soccer league for women in the United States, but she said she was “naive and believed that anything was possible.”

Once she got to the University of Washington, she had an eye-opening experience. At a football party that she and her teammates went to, they were confronted by one of the football players who asked them why they were leaving the party so early. When they said that they had a game the next day, he scoffed and said, “Girls athletics? Nobody cares about your game.”

From that point on, she knew something was wrong. It only magnified when she started playing for the national team.

“I always knew something wasn’t right,” said Solo. “I didn’t understand why the men’s team were flying in charter planes and we’re on our way to the biggest tournament of our lives, the World Cup and the Olympics, and we’re sitting in middle seats, crunched, with a game in two days with no time to recover. Deep down I knew it wasn’t right.”

So, she set out to do something about it. 

Hope Solo spoke with students and signed autographs in McGuffey Hall, prior to her lecture on Tuesday evening. Photo by Massillon Myers.

Solo became more vocal about gender injustices and challenged the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) on its policies regarding the pay gap between players on the men’s and women’s national teams.

“I was a thorn in their side for 20 years because I always wanted to be honest. Every interview I gave could rub people the wrong way because I was so honest,” said Solo. “I gave my heart and soul and dedicated my life and grew up on the U.S. team.”

While she spoke out about injustices, controversy surrounded her. Just before the 2012 Olympics, she tested positive for a banned substance – a diuretic – that she had taken as part of a premenstrual treatment which was prescribed by her doctor. She added that she didn’t know it contained the drug. Solo was given a warning by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and was cleared to participate in the Olympics. The U.S. went on to win gold in those games.

On June 21, 2014, Solo was arrested on two counts of domestic violence after a confrontation with her half-sister and 17-year-old nephew at their home in Kirkland, Washington. The judge later dismissed the case on procedural grounds in January 2015. 

Just before the 2015 World Cup, a new report surfaced with details of aggressive behavior toward family members and police from Solo. An appeal was filed, and a Washington state appeals court reinstated the domestic violence charges in October 2015. The charges were dismissed in May 2018.

Still in the fight for equal pay, Solo and several teammates filed a wage discrimination complaint against the USSF in March 2016. 

On Aug. 24, 2016, the USSF suspended Solo for six months and terminated her national team contract for calling the Swedish women’s team “a bunch of cowards” referring to the defensive style of play they employed in that game after losing to them in penalty kicks in the quarterfinal of the 2015 Rio Olympics.

Currently, there are two separate but parallel lawsuits being brought against the USSF over alleged gender-based employment discrimination. One is by Solo and the other is by more than 28 players currently on the national team that was filed on March 8, 2019. According to an article by Sports Illustrated, the lawsuit says the USSF violated the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“A lot of people want to say certain things, but they don’t have the confidence to perhaps do it, so I found myself asking questions that were above my paygrade back when I was 18 years old and on the national team,” said Solo in the green room for a seminar in front of about 20 students before the lecture at Hall Auditorium. “I would ask these questions and I constantly got just beat down and told that that was above my pay grade and to be happy that you can play the game. We were constantly told to be happy and be grateful.”

Although these lawsuits could take years, Solo hopes to inspire the next generation of athletes to continue to fight for change.

“I’ve looked up to her and she’s always been kind of an outspoken person, which I find kind of inspiring,” said senior Anne Hubbard, who attended the lecture wearing a Megan Rapinoe shirt. “It just means you have confidence in a world where it’s mostly male-dominated. Being able to meet her and hear her talk is super inspiring.”

Solo signed an autograph on Hubbard’s Megan Rapinoe jersey after the Tuesday, lecture. Photo by Massillon Myers.

With U.S. women’s national team coming off of back-to-back FIFA World Cup wins in 2015 and 2019, the momentum has never been greater. Players like Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan are stepping up to lead the fight for equality, and it’s not going unnoticed. 

“I think it’s fantastic what the women’s national team has done in such a short amount of time. Winning the World Cup in Canada was kind of like the turning of everything,” said Miami women’s soccer coach, Courtney Sirmans. “Now what they’re doing with their success in trying to get equal pay and not just because they’re good at soccer, they’re putting in just the same amount of effort, I think is huge for women in sports.”

Now, Solo lives on a farm with North Carolina with her husband, former NFL tight end Jerramy Stevens. She does a variety of things including broadcasting, but she continues to be an activist for change. 

“Whether it’s the right to vote for women or the black vote, everything had to be fought for,” said Solo. “The people in power don’t just give up the power, you have to take it. Is it exhausting? Yeah, it’s exhausting, but I know I’m on the right side of history.”