At this stage of her career, Hope Solo is pretty much the definitive example of a divisive figure in sports. One of the top goalkeepers in the world, Solo helped her team win Olympic gold medals in both 2008 and 2012, and the World Cup in 2015, as well as earning numerous personal accolades like U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year.
However, as of last month, Solo is an athlete without a team: she was unceremoniously dropped from the U.S. National Team after calling her Olympic opponents “cowards,” and last week took indefinite leave from the Seattle Reign.
“Coming to terms with the fact I was fired from the U.S. Women’s National Team after 17 years of service has been devastating. After careful consideration, I have decided to end my season with the Seattle Reign, an organization I love playing for,” Solo said in a statement. “Mentally, I am not there yet. After watching the team’s win against Portland this weekend and seeing Haley Kopmeyer playing so well in goal, I truly believe this decision is what’s best for me and for the Reign organization.”
Life Off the Field
It’s important to note that Solo’s life outside of soccer hasn’t been free from conflict. In 2014, she was arrested on two counts of domestic violence after an altercation at her half-sister’s home, and she was suspended from the U.S. soccer team for 30 days in 2015 after her husband drove a team van while intoxicated, while Solo was a passenger. She’s also come under fire for social media about the Zika virus, which included her dressed in mosquito netting and carrying bug spray. (Brazilian soccer fans were not thrilled with her commentary, and yelled “Zika!” whenever Solo touched the ball during the Olympics.)
With all that, you could make the case that U.S. Soccer’s decision was based merely on a cost-benefit analysis: the PR fallout from Solo’s behavior was too great to justify keeping her on. That’s probably true, but when you factor in Solo’s age (35) and the fact that there are no major tournaments for three years, the picture changes. In short, it seems that when she was no longer useful, U.S. Soccer cut Solo loose.
Your Company Is Not a Family
Regardless of how they came to it, U.S. Soccer has every right to make that decision. Professional sports is a business. There’s a reason that Netflix, a top tech employer, famously describes itself as “a team, not a family.” In fact, they take pains to specify that they’re like a pro sports team, one that aims to “hire, develop and cut smartly, so we have stars in every position.”
Other employers work similarly, whether they state their philosophy explicitly or not. Not that this is necessarily the party line: you may have heard your company described by a well-meaning manager as being like a family. She or he might even believe it. But as Hope Solo’s situation reminds us, your company is not a family, and work is not personal. If you become too hot for your employer to handle, they’ll drop you. If the market changes, and you’re no longer valuable for reasons beyond your control, they’ll lay you off.
The important thing for you to remember is that you need to be on your own side, when it comes to developing your career. Do your best work. Earn your salary. Just know that when it comes down to it, your employer, like Hope Solo’s, will do what’s in their best interests. You should do the same for yourself.
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