Hope Solo and the selling of women’s sports

Hope Solo is once again in the news for some of the wrong reasons — being warned for a positive test for a substance she takes for pre-menstrual purposes and discussing athletes’ debauchery at the 2008 Olympics.

The U.S. women’s national soccer team goalkeeper is either a breath of fresh air or hot air, depending on your point of view (or perhaps some of both). In a profile in The Daily Beast this morning, she’s just as blunt about the life of a professional female team-sport athlete, and what she has to do to pay the bills and raise awareness for her sport.

While some leading women’s sports advocates bemoan this state of affairs — especially when it comes to supposedly suggestive magazine poses — Solo is living in a very different world. As she tells Andrew Romano:

“My soccer salary would only make me an average living. So we can’t just market to little girls constantly. We need to start selling tickets to the masses. To middle-aged men. To all walks of life. At the end of the day, these stupid photo shoots are about bringing more recognition to the game, getting bigger contracts, and putting ourselves on the same level as the men.”

The recent demise of the Women’s Professional Soccer League, where Solo made her living for the last three years, has prompted some sobering discussion of the possibilities, and immediate realities, of her sport.

These are first-world women’s sports issues, of course, and with the London Olympics less than two weeks away, more attention will be paid to the first female Olympians from Saudi Arabia and the debut of women’s boxing.

It’s also the first Olympics in which American women will outnumber their male counterparts, a fact that has received plenty of Title IX clucking on these shores. But the alleged flip side to all this good news, as Jeré Longman of The New York Times surmises, is this:

“Women also continue to be sexualized in the marketing of their sports. Both badminton and boxing considered requiring women to wear skirts but backed off in the face of widespread criticism and ridicule, making skirts optional.”

This is hardly the first time Longman has parroted the agony aunts of women’s sports I profiled in “Beyond Title IX.” Now he just takes it upon himself to speak for them, and by their own presumptuous logic, all female athletes.

It’s this silly and trivial obsession over attire, and posing, that generate far too much attention in major American press outlets, oblivious to the realities of women athletes and their everyday pursuit not only of Olympic glory, but for the means to continue to do what they love.

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