The Elizabeth Lambert story has captured tremendous mainstream attention and generated some good conversation (and some garbage, of course).
After posting my own response, reading widely and talking intently about the video, I believe that there are two really helpful questions we should be centering our discussion around:
- In this hypercompetitive society, what do we do when someone crosses the line between fair and foul?
- Who will be responsible for enforcing and/or communicating that a player has stepped over the line?
This isn’t a moral issue. The debate isn’t best served by arguing about whether Elizabeth Lambert’s actions or anyone else’s reactions were “good” or “right.” There are rules in our games, and while there is some gray area that our sports allow for, some of Lambert’s actions fell outside those boundaries.
Yes, there is lots of rough play in many sports. I’m really ready for people to quit pointing that out. All of us – male AND female – who compete in athletics understand that. I don’t think you’ll hear any of us whining about a little bit or even a lot of body contact in soccer.
This incident isn’t particularly unusual. This kind of stuff happens all the time. We pursue our sports with a sometimes overwhelming intensity, that’s why we have rules to establish what is and isn’t acceptable. What IS unusual is that in this particular case, we haven’t figured out what the main question is (see first bold paragraph above).
Some of the problem with this incident is due to the spread-out nature of soccer. Because everyone is pretty widely scattered on the field, it may be harder to see all the smaller scenes that are playing themselves out everywhere. Just like in football, hockey, and other similar sports, most teammates, coaches, and refs are watching the ball (puck, etc.) rather than the entire field or backcourt.
It’s also a little bit about gender. For many women, the first thing that goes through our minds in a situation like this is “WTF??” followed closely by “I didn’t come out here to fight, I just want to play soccer.” Men often have a different agreement about a game. They’re there to play, but they also often have an unspoken agreement about protecting the team, and particular individuals on the team whose job that is (the big guys, sometimes, or possibly the better players). I’ve seen this dynamic at work on women’s teams too, but not as frequently.
Men also tend to communicate in more physical ways (pushing, shoving, etc.) where women will use less overt methods. I know I’m painting with a broad brush here, but I think these factors are part of the mix.
Most people agree that Lambert crossed the line. And now it’s a bit of a mess. Yes, she’s apologized. Yes, she’s been suspended.
What I’m interested in is how could this have unfolded differently if it had been addressed mid-game. By a ref, coach, teammate (either side), or fan.
If my opponent throws an egregious illegal punch in the ring, people ringside would likely draw attention to the ref or coach if those people had missed it. Then certain penalties can be enforced.
But sometimes my opponent can do something illegal and I will be the only one who knows it. That’s when it’s up to me to communicate back verbally and/or physically, and if that doesn’t work I can tell an official or a trainer between bells, or even get out of the ring.
And in the end, that’s what’s most amazing to me about the BYU game. There was infringement after infringement and as far as I’m aware, no one did anything until after the video began to circulate.
Here’s to some more well-directed conversation. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.
Image credit: Jason Gulledge
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