It's been 23 years since NBA star Charles Barkley told the world not to look up to him.
"I am not a role model," Barkley intoned in a Nike ad designed to sell $200 shoes. "I am not paid to be a role model. I am paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court. Parents should be role models. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn't mean I should raise your kids."
Barkley was right, but left unsaid was a simple truth: As long as he could dunk that basketball, he could get away with just about anything.
You could say Hope Solo is the Barkley of the U.S. women's soccer team. Solo is known for running her mouth, for saying stupid things and acting in ways that don't reflect well on her team or country.
But she's also a superstar, arguably the best women's goalie in the world, which meant the national team put up with her antics for more than a decade as she protected the net.
After the U.S. team lost to Sweden on Aug. 12, bouncing the favorites out of the Olympics, Solo called the Swedes "a bunch of cowards" for slowing the tempo of the game and playing conservatively en route to a win via penalty kicks.
"The best team did not win today," Solo added. "I strongly, firmly believe that."
Those comments likely cost Solo any chance at playing for the U.S. national team again. Not only did U.S. Soccer suspend Solo for six months, the organization terminated her contract with the women's national team, a move interpreted by experts to mean the team has finally decided to part ways with Solo.
Lest anyone applaud U.S. Soccer for taking the hard road and parting with a significant talent for the sake of principles, the truth isn't so flattering -- Solo's play in the Olympics showed that she may finally be slowing down, that at 35 she's lost a step, the step that separated her from the pack and allowed her to play at a higher level than her competition.
Maybe this is a cynical way of looking at it, but it appears U.S. Soccer finally decided to cut its losses not only because of Solo's past behavior and her outburst after the Olympic loss, but also because she's not the player she used to be. In other words, it just wasn't worth putting up with her behavior anymore because she can't tend goal quite as well.
Is that fair?
Sports is full of examples of athletes who have done awful things and committed horrible crimes. Unless the crime is unforgivable, like murder or pedophilia, there's one general rule -- if a player can still hit home runs, throw for touchdowns or drain three-pointers, then there's always a way to rehabilitate him, always a narrative that can paint her as an underdog to get back into the good graces of fans and sportswriters.
Most of those players are men, and the things that they've done make Solo look like a model citizen by comparison.
In 1997, NBA star Latrell Sprewell choked Warriors head coach P. J. Carlesimo during a team practice, nearly squeezing the life out of him before teammates and coaches pulled Sprewell off. But Sprewell was still capable of scoring 20 points a game, so the New York Knicks traded for him, designed a comeback narrative, and eventually all was forgiven.
In 2001, All Star NBA point guard Jason Kidd beat the living hell out of his wife, Joumana, over a french fry. Kidd chased his terrified wife through the house until she was finally able to get behind a closed door and call police. Kidd would eventually plead guilty to domestic assault, and enjoyed 12 more years in the NBA, making tens of millions of dollars.
Remember NFL quarterback Michael Vick, who admitted to running a dog fighting ring, drowning, hanging and electrocuting dogs that didn't fight well? Rehabilitated, repackaged with an underdog narrative, forgiven.
What about NFL wide receiver Donte Stallworth, who was convicted for hitting and killing a 59-year-old man while driving drunk? Rehabilitated, lauded as a man who turned his life around, forgiven.
Boxer Floyd Mayweather has a history of domestic violence convictions dating back to 2002 and an alleged MO that includes punching women in the face. Not only was he forgiven, he earned a $100 million payday for a 2015 fight, and sportswriters still lionize him.
Hope Solo wasn't exactly gracious in her team's Olympic loss to Sweden, but she's an angel compared to the athletes who beat their wives and girlfriends, tortured animals or killed people. It's difficult not to come to the conclusion that, if Solo was still the elite goalkeeper she was in the 2012 London Olympics, the national team would have taken the comment in its stride.
This time around, it seems Solo is only guilty of not being able to produce on the field like she used to, and if that's the criteria by which she's judged, it's dead wrong.