Our Words and Actions Define Us
Once upon a time, the USWNT had a glorious victory at the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup. Their final match, in which Carli Lloyd grabbed the game by the neck before a quarter of an hour had elapsed, drew more American eyes than any prior televised soccer match. They brought home the third jersey star, and set off around the country on a tour of substandard pitches / farewell matches for retiring players. One of those who had announced her retirement was Abby Wambach. She'd play no more after the victory tour.
In her final match in December 2015, Wambach played 72 minutes of fairly lethargic and uninspired football against China. China scored the only goal of the match, ending an unbeaten streak the USWNT had stretched to 104 games. Winning, however, wasn't really the point. The team broke every shape and strategy attempting to feed Abby for one final goal, and she had a few half chances that didn't find the net. Alas. Nonetheless, the "GOAT" or "G.O.A.T." or "Greatest Of All Time" accolades showered down on Wambach. From most places.
See, during the lead-up to her 255th appearance for her country, Wambach had been candid during a few interviews and let it be known that she believes the United States Men's National Team's selection of, and reliance on, players who had not come up through the US system may be doing a disservice to player development at home. To ESPN's Bill Simmons:
"I would definitely fire Jurgen. Sorry Sunil, sorry, US Soccer, but I don't think that Jurgen and this litmus test on him has worked... He hasn't really focused, I feel, enough attention on the youth programs. Although he says he has, I don't think that he has. And I also believe that the way that he has changed and he has brought in a bunch of these foreign guys is not something I believe in wholeheartedly. I don't believe in it. I don't believe in it in my heart. And I love Jermaine Jones, I love watching him play, you know, and I love Fabian Johnson, and he plays in Germany and is actually killing it right now after being sent home for faking an injury, quote unquote, faking an injury. But, you know, I just think that this experiment that U.S. Soccer has given Jurgen isn't one that personally I'm into."
The entire wide-ranging interview is worth a listen. Abby is very candid about her willingness to speak truth to power, even when it may not be popular. Good thing, because her frankness did seem to irritate some of the people she mentioned. There was mild grumbling at the time, but not enough to distract from her ride off into the sunset.
Now, four months later, we know that at least a few of the involved parties haven't forgotten what Wambach had to say about the USMNT.
But, first things first.
On Sunday morning, Wambach was pulled over in her Range Rover and booked for Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUII). The red-eyed retiree looked pretty unhappy with herself in the mug shot. True to her trademark bold personality, she addressed the issue immediately, taking responsibility for what she'd done in a Facebook post:
Yes, Abby. Most of us would like to follow a better example than this. We can be glad that nobody was injured by your poor judgment. We can remember that buzzed driving is drunk driving. We can be proud that you had the decency not to lie or make excuses or try to blame someone else. But we're disappointed. We're especially disappointed because five of your former USWNT teammates just filed an EEOC Complaint against US Soccer, and were getting LOTS of positive media coverage. And now we're talking about drunk driving, instead of talking about equal pay for equal play.
But here's the thing: most sane citizens won't use this incident to justify throwing Abby away as a person. The CDC reports that in 2014, 121 million American adults self-reported having operated a vehicle while impaired. That's more than a third of the population of the country, and a much higher percentage of adults once one remembers that kids neither drive nor self-report having driven while intoxicated. So, she's in good, dumb company with her "horrible mistake." We're glad she's OK. We don't want her to drink and drive again. We like it when she's alive and not responsible for the deaths of others.
Try this thought experiment: Have you ever known a friend or relative who somehow managed to navigate a vehicle home without killing themselves / others or getting arrested despite being intoxicated according to the law? Stats say you almost certainly have. Those friends or relatives needed to be scolded, reminded of their responsibilities, and then hugged. After all, we care about the dangers of drinking and driving because we like people to stay alive. Otherwise, we'd encourage them to drink and drive. But we don't. We like people.
For some members of society and social media, a public failure by a high-profile person such as Abby Wambach seems an open invitation to bring up every possible grievance. When a high-profile person is down, it's prime time to pile on. Because, I guess, that'll teach 'em.
Unfortunately for US Soccer's slogan "One Nation, One Team," some of the most poorly considered commentary arrived courtesy of two current members of the US Men's Team.
There is a wonderful German word, "Schadenfreude," that means something like, "taking joy in the misfortune of others." I'll plead guilty to having felt this way in my life, especially while watching EPL matches. "Oh, look, Diego Costa got a red card when he didn't really deserve it. Ha ha." (Obviously, this is not a real example; Costa always deserves his cards.)
I typically refrain from sharing this somewhat ugly emotion with the world. But I can't imagine what would be going through my mind that would prompt me to comment on a public thread on Twitter sharing unbridled contempt for someone who only recently has retired from my "One Team."
Yet, there was Alejandro Bedoya, bringing up Wambach's comments from the Simmons interview and suggesting she was attempting to shirk responsibility for her actions. In later tweets, Bedoya stood his ground, noting that his best friend and fellow USMNT footballer Charlie Davies was seriously injured by a drunk driver, and that athletic prowess is not as important as a human life (no argument there). Once Wambach issued her statement, he commented again:
No, Ale, you don't have to be politically correct (and that's not what politically correct means) because you're an athlete. But you need to know that when you publicly lash out at someone when they are down, you're being a jerk. When people call you a jerk, they're not defending Wambach. (OK, the slow ones are.) They're addressing your choice to make inflammatory comments in the direction of another human who didn't do anything to you, and who is probably your employer's biggest star. Your comments don't say, "I'm a well-reasoned dude who thinks about things and cares about people in a way that is deserving of respect." They say, "I like to kick things when they're down by bringing up unrelated nonsense."
Speaking of unrelated nonsense, the more egregious tweet above was composed by Jozy Altidore. He chose to use the Wambach arrest to bring up the events of January 2015 surrounding the operation of a US Soccer van by Hope Solo's intoxicated husband. Which, of course, is super classy, especially when "Lol" is appended.
It's the worst kind of schadenfreude: the kind that comes from a man taking joy in a woman's problem. In this case, it's taking joy in an unrelated woman's problem. It's #SchadenDude. There is no reason for it. It's not funny. It's not pertinent. It doesn't make Abby look worse; it makes Altidore look mean and sanctimonious. This is the same Jozy Altidore, incidentally, who uses Twitter to fight valiantly against nasty, prejudicial hashtags from time to time. He's better than this. So is Ale Bedoya, and so is Abby Wambach.
My math works like this:
Abby Wambach + One Idiotic Event + One Owning of Idiotic Event = Redeemable Human needing hug.
Ale Bedoya + Several Dumb Tweets at a (barely former) Teammate's expense = Redeemable Human needing hug.
Jozy Altidore + One Trolling Tweet Targeting unrelated current Teammate = Redeemable Human needing many hugs.
We shouldn't throw people away when they do stupid things. But we don't show people who express #SchadenDude a better way when our response is throw mindless garbage back at them. Ale Bedoya needs to learn that it's not a desire for political correctness that makes his tweets bad form. It's a desire for humanity, decency and compassion. And Jozy Altidore should learn that piling on to a bad situation reveals more about his own character than anything else. When we expect more from ourselves, we can start to expect more from others. What matters most is that we're all making the effort.
So, we're sending hugs to all three of them. Clearly, they're needed.