November 18, 2009
Those Soccer Plays, in Context
By JERÉ LONGMANALBUQUERQUE — Nearly two weeks later, the University of New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert said she still could not fully explain what led her to yank an opponent from Brigham Young down by her ponytail in what has become a highly publicized incident of violent behavior.
Her action was indefensible, Lambert said Tuesday in her first interview since the incident occurred Nov. 5 in a Mountain West Conference semifinal game and led to her indefinite suspension from the New Mexico team.
“I still deeply regret it and will always regret it and will carry it through the rest of my life not to retaliate,” said Lambert, a 20-year-old junior on scholarship.
She has watched the video a handful of times and does not recognize herself pulling down Brigham Young’s Kassidy Shumway, Lambert said.
“I look at it and I’m like, ‘That is not me,’ ” said Lambert, a defender and an all-conference academic player. “I have so much regret. I can’t believe I did that.”
At the same time, she said other moments of aggressive play — in which Lambert elbowed a Brigham Young player in the back, received a yellow card for tripping, seemed to throw a punch at an opponent’s head and made a hard tackle from behind — came during the forceful, insistent play that routinely occurred in women’s soccer but might be misunderstood by casual fans.
Some of her actions — like the apparent punch, which she said was inadvertent — were misinterpreted or taken out of context on a condensed video, Lambert said. And she said she believed that the incident was blown out of proportion because it occurred in a women’s game. She said it was wrongly reported to be her when it was actually a teammate who tried to clear a ball and accidentally kicked it into the face of a B.Y.U. player.“I definitely feel because I am a female it did bring about a lot more attention than if a male were to do it,” Lambert said. “It’s more expected for men to go out there and be rough. The female, we’re still looked at as, Oh, we kick the ball around and score a goal. But it’s not. We train very hard to reach the highest level we can get to. The physical aspect has maybe increased over the years. I’m not saying it’s for the bad or it’s been too overly aggressive. It’s a game. Sports are physical.”
She added: “I think the way the video came out, it did make me look like a monster. That’s not the type of player I am. I’m not just out there trying to hurt players. That’s taking away from the beauty of the game. And I would never want to do that.”
Lambert said she was shaken and appalled by some of the responses she received in e-mail messages, telephone messages and on blogs, which included the publishing of her parents’ home phone number in Southern California and one suggestion that “I should be taken to a state prison, raped and left for dead in a ditch.”
She said she felt conflicting emotions and sometimes still woke up in a sweat.
“I’ll be angry with myself that I did this, to my team, my university, that I did this to women’s soccer, a sport that many females have worked very hard to get respect for,” Lambert said. “And I’ll be sad that people want to see me suffer.”She said she was taken aback at how the incident had been perceived by some as sexy catfighting between two women. She said she was aghast that some men had sent her messages saying, “Hey, we should meet up some time.”
“That appalled me,” Lambert said. “A lot of people think I have a lot of sexual aggression. I was like, ‘Whoa, no, I don’t feel that way at all.’ That’s bizarre and shocking to me.”
The game against Brigham Young began with familiar passion and intensity, Lambert said. Emotions escalated after Brigham Young took a 1-0 halftime lead, given that a defeat could mean the end of the season and a failure to qualify for the N.C.A.A. tournament, she said.
Opposing fans were mockingly chanting her name, she said, and players on both teams were playing aggressively. She said she was called names and taken down to the ground with cheap shots. On video, a B.Y.U. player can be seen elbowing Lambert in the stomach before she shoves the opponent in the back in retaliation. Shumway can be seen tugging on Lambert’s shorts before she is yanked down by her ponytail.
If the referee Joe Pimentel had issued more yellow cards or a red card, Lambert said, “It would have been a very different game.”
Still, Lambert said that she did not want to throw Pimentel “under the bus” and that she did not consider the game to be out of control.
Her coach, Kit Vela, never instructed her to “take anybody out,” Lambert said, adding that the B.Y.U. players also did not appear to have malign intent.
Lambert said she eventually grew frustrated, as much with herself as with the opponent, saying she had often struggled with self-confidence and with feeling “that I’m accepted playing at this level.”
Lambert said of the match: “I’ve never been in a situation like that, where I was out of my element. There were times in the game where I was literally like, ‘All right, Elizabeth, you’ve got to get control’ of myself.”
In each of her two previous matches, Lambert had received a yellow-card warning, but those were the only cautions in more than 2,500 minutes of play at New Mexico, a university official said.
Lambert said she did not consider herself a dirty player. Yet in the second half, she yanked Shumway down by her ponytail and assumed widespread villainy.
“In that one moment, I let it all get into my head,” Lambert said of the emotion of the game.
Later in the match, Lambert received a yellow card for tripping.
She is seeing a clinical psychologist on campus to better understand what caused the hair-pulling incident. It is one of several steps she is taking, along with speaking to youth players about acceptable behavior, so she can seek reinstatement to the team in the spring.
“I’m working on my mental game to never let that happen again,” Lambert said. “That’s unacceptable in any sport to get to that point where you feel it’s necessary that you have to retaliate in a dirty manner.”SourceI gotta say as someone who if a huge football fan this story pissed me off so much. Yes, you do see a lot of bad behaviour in the men's game but you know what? They get carded for it as well so it's not like people are critiquing her because she behaved this way as a girl (aside from the general morons that is). It's because she behaved this way as a player. I'm sorry, she's trying to be the victim here and she's not. She's just not.