Opinion | Idolize actions, not people

By Livia LaMarca, Staff Columnist

For 13 years of my life, I played soccer. I loved the sport so much that I watched games on TV whenever I could. I could never get into men’s soccer — they flop on the ground way too much for my liking. I loved watching the U.S. Women’s National Team instead.

I watched most of their games and knew most of their names. I tried my very best to implement and learn from what they would do out on the field. Out of the entire team, my biggest inspiration was Hope Solo. She was the goalie on the Women’s National Team from 2000 to 2016, where she played her final Olympics game. She’s won nearly every award imaginable for a goalie and has broken multiple records, including the highest number of shutout games — 102.

Solo wasn’t just known for being amazing on the pitch, but also unabashedly brazen and outspoken. She fought hard to receive equal pay for the women’s team and was an iconic equal rights activist. Though she was amazing in that regard, her brashness got her in trouble elsewhere.

Solo was arrested and tried for domestic abuse back in 2014, when she allegedly beat her sister and blamed her nephew. Two years after this, during her final game at the Olympics, she went on national television and claimed Sweden didn’t play “great soccer” and was proclaimed a sore loser by the soccer world. On top of it all, just a few weeks ago she was arrested for alleged child abuse, impaired driving and resisting arrest.

I can respect the amazing feats she made as a goalie and what she has done for women’s equality in sports, but I cannot look up to her as a person any longer. Maybe I shouldn’t have in the first place. It is the actions of people that we should be looking to as inspiration, not the people themselves.

I wanted to be an outspoken feminist and innovator on the soccer field, not an alleged domestic abuser or child endangerer. When I look at Solo, I don’t see a very good person. I don’t want to be like that. But when I look solely at her good actions, there is still something there to be inspired by. All of the good things she’s done don’t erase all of the bad — I am just choosing to idolize the good actions, not the person entirely.

It feels as if every role model and inspiration is marred by some grievance or problematic quality. Who even is there to look up to anymore? Take Mother Teresa and Gandhi, for example. 

Mother Teresa, now Saint Teresa, is revered by many. But very few people know of her forced conversions, relationships with dictators and poor medical care provided to others.

While her saintly image was upheld by the Catholic church, some people under her care didn’t receive adequate medical assistance. She was even caught trying to baptize those who were dying.

Mahatma Gandhi is regarded as one of the greatest Indian activists ever, but he was overtly racist and often would sleep naked next to young girls, even his grand-niece, to test his celibacy — all without telling his wife. When he was shot and killed by a Hindu nationalist, he was martyred despite all of his wrongdoings.

We set ourselves up for failure when we place individuals on a pedestal instead of analyzing their individual actions which made them admired in the first place. Good people can do bad and bad people can do good. The world isn’t as straightforward as we want it to be. We must recognize that our “heroes” often aren’t all they are made out to be.

I think most people would draw a line at drunk driving, colonialism or sexual harassment in terms of questionable behavior, but there are plenty of examples of people who have done good things but aren’t necessarily always good people.

We cannot write off good actions just because people do other things we don’t like. For example, Kim Kardashian has done a lot of work in freeing wrongfully incarcerated individuals, but I don’t like the unachievable beauty standard she and her sisters are promoting to young women. J.K. Rowling has entertained millions of people around the world with her Harry Potter franchise, but has said what seem to be some pretty transphobic things over the past few years and contributed to a harmful narrative about trans people.

I cannot stress enough that people make mistakes, and while they should be held responsible, it doesn’t completely erase all of the good that they have done. 

People’s good actions should be at the forefront of what inspires us each and every day. You don’t want to be that person — you want to do some of what that person does. For me, I didn’t want to be Hope Solo, I wanted to be as good a goalie as she was. There’s a distinction there that really needs to be made, or we’ll just leave ourselves disappointed.

It’s hard to recognize when our idols do something wrong and it is even harder to admit it. It’s embarrassing to say that a role model of ours has messed up big time. That’s why we should switch our language and focus on what the person is doing, not who the person is. 

People need to be held accountable for their wrongdoings, yes. But it is important that we don’t forget about all the good that people do in this world everyday. We can do both at the same time when we look at the actions of people and not at the people themselves.

Livia LaMarca mostly writes about American politics and pop culture. Write to her at [email protected].