Just about everyone believes the greatest moment in women's soccer happened in the Rose Bowl in 1999, when Brandi Chastain whipped off her shirt to celebrate her World Cup-winning goal over China.
Just about no one considers Team USA goalie Hope Solo's rant against her coach in 2007 as anything near as admirable.
But the two are a lot more similar than different.
Solo was replaced by '99 star Brianna Scurry for the '07 World Cup semifinal against Brazil. The U.S. got trounced, 4-0, and Solo went off on then-coach Greg Ryan:
"It 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. It's not 2004. And it's 2007, and I think you have to live in the present. And you can't live by big names. You can’t live in the past. It doesn't matter what somebody did in an Olympic gold medal game in the Olympics three years ago. Now is what matters, and that’s what I think."
The outburst went mainstream and Solo became the biggest female villain in sports. She was suspended from the team and flew home on her own dime. The fact that she came back the next year to win Olympic gold in a 1-0 shutout over Brazil seemed to slip under the radar, even though Solo proved herself right.
Four years later, on the eve of the 2011 World Cup kicking off later this month, ThePostGame asked Solo if the media would have treated her comments differently if they came from a male athlete.
Her reply: "Absolutely. I've known that to be true."
Male athletes throw coaches under the bus all the time. They boast all the time. They call each other out all the time. And how often are they sent home for that? Was LeBron James told to pack his gym bag after bumping Erik Spoelstra in November? Was Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference suspended for chastising teammate Daniel Paille for a questionable hit on a Dallas Stars player in February?
Of course not. Hotheadedness and honesty are part of sports -- unless those sports are played by women. In that case, a player who isn't happy with a decision is stigmatized.
"We needed some change (in 2007)," Solo said Saturday in a phone interview from Niketown in New York City. "People like to keep everything so positive -- like we're the girls next door. We like to do everything together, and all that. Why are we sugarcoating? Just because we're teammates doesn't mean we're all best friends. But that's how women's sport have been portrayed. We're not your girls next door. We have opinions, we have arguments."
In the 24/7 news cycle, sports thrive on the soap opera. Disputes happen, the media dwell on them, the word "chemistry" is thrown around, and then it's time to play the game. Men's sports revel in rifts, but arguments in women's sports are played down. They're dismissed as catty.
Solo apologized to her teammates, and boasting she would have made saves Scurry didn't was not smart. But Solo is a competitor. She worked her entire life to win a World Cup for her country. She felt unfairly deprived of that chance. Of course she was upset. And she should be praised, not reviled, for answering a question honestly. The "I Am Woman Hear Me Roar" shouldn't only apply to positive sentiments. It sure isn't that way on the men's side.
So if Chastain's display of pride became an historic step, Solo’s display of defiance should as well. It's sexist and condescending to think women athletes should be "ladylike." That's a myth that's propagated by (mostly male) media and enabled by a fearful female sports machine. Solo is a refreshing antidote to all that.
"It’s clear that women athletics are pretty far behind in every way," Solo said Saturday. "In terms of facilities, how much we make, everything. It takes time for a sport to grow -- for women's sports to grow. What happened needed to happen -- it was kind of a breakthrough for us."
To her credit, Solo hasn't turned into a wallflower. In 2008, she heard some offensive comments during a Women's Professional Soccer game in Cambridge against the Boston Breakers. She rushed out of Harvard Stadium and tweeted: "To all the boston fans and especially the young kids that I didn’t sign autographs for I'm sorry. I will not stand for an organization who can so blatantly disrespect the athletes that come to play. Perhaps the WPS or Boston themselves can finally take a stance to the profanity, racism and crude remarks that are made by their so called 'fan club' To the true fans, I hope to catch you at the next game. Thanks for your support and love for the game."
Breakers fans blew up, but the club later admitted that profane comments were indeed hurled at the field.
So should Solo have sucked it up, as some said? Should she have been a girl next door?
Last year, after her Atlanta Beat team lost 1-0 to the Washington Freedom, Solo tweeted about a disallowed goal, saying, "Its official, the refs are straight bad. Its clear the league wanted dc in playoffs. I have truly never seen anything like this. Its sad. ... I am done playing in a league where the game is no longer in control of the players."
Ill-advised? Maybe so. But again, this happens all the time in men’s sports. Twitter is kind of a loaded weapon, and angry comments often backfire -- hello, Jay Cutler haters -- but if we're going to praise Tweeters for keeping it real, we should absolutely be consistent when Solo does the same. Let's hope she keeps up the honesty during this year's World Cup -- win or lose. She's the unquestioned starter now, and as in '08, she's vindicated herself with great play.
Brandi Chastain is a household name for only good reasons. Hope Solo is a household name for mostly bad reasons. It shouldn't be that way. Chastain moved women's sports forward by revealing her midriff. Solo moved women's sports forward by showing her guts.