In no way do I condone the actions of Elizabeth Lambert, the University of New Mexico soccer player who was caught on video being violent toward BYU players during a Mountain West Conference tournament game.
Lambert nearly yanked a woman’s ponytail right out of her scalp, punched one girl in the back, another one in the head and did some over-the-top tackling in one game. She was obviously playing on tilt and should’ve been red-carded numerous times or removed from the game by her coach. Television cameras started watching her every move because she was that out of control. It was horrible.
But her Internet fame—videos of her acts had more than a million views on YouTube—came with jokes about women’s sports and the intensity that the BYU and New Mexico players were showing. That’s where I really shake my head.
ESPN.com’s Graham Hays said it best--women's sports aren't catfights. They're competitive. And it’s about time mainstream America accepts the fact that our female athletes aren’t worried about breaking a nail.
I was surprised by some people’s reaction, but perhaps my perspective is unique. My wife played Division I soccer, and I went to all of her games for four straight years. Big-time women's college soccer is a rough sport. Players are athletic, big, fast—and most of all, physical.
My wife was one of the smaller players out there, and she had to compensate by being tougher. She gruesomely broke her elbow in high school and still has problems with it, but kept playing. In college, she got a black eye in practice and a concussion during a game. She had trouble walking between many of her matches because of ankle and shin injuries caused by players kicking the daylights out of her while battling for the ball. I went to visit her at her apartment one day and she had an air cast on her right foot—and she played a full game two days later.
Funny thing is, my wife was relatively injury-free compared to some of her college teammates. One of them badly broke her leg in a game, another one tore up her ankle. Pretty much all of them spent their college days in a training room getting ice baths. Offseason knee surgeries were common.
After watching the Lambert video, I concluded that a red card should have been issued in four of the incidents. I then showed the video to my wife. She shrugged her shoulders at a couple of the tackles, acknowledged that the ponytail yank and the face punch should’ve been a red card, then deadpanned “they’re making too big a deal out of it.”
Probably so. While I view Lambert’s actions a little more negatively than my wife does, we agreed on this—if this was a men’s soccer game between BYU and New Mexico, the actions of one out-of-control defender playing rough with opponents wouldn’t have generated one million views on YouTube. It probably wouldn't have cracked 100,000.
Why do you think that is?
Maybe someday, we’ll figure out that female athletes are deeply invested in their sport, and they want to win just as bad as the boys do. Maybe someday, we’ll realize that competitiveness brings out physical play, and physical play can light a short fuse and unfortunate incidents will occur in the heat of battle--just like the boys.
And just maybe, we’ll get to a point where we're OK with the girls playing hard—and it won't be worthy of one million views on YouTube.