The casual sports fan in America didn’t give two shits about women’s college soccer until New Mexico’s Liz Lambert entered the national consciousness last November. If you haven’t seen the video, here it is:
In hindsight, I think it was hilarious that ESPN dusted off Julie Foudy and put her in front of the camera to give her two cents about Lambert’s actions against BYU in that Mountain West Conference tourney game. Like the rest of us, when did SportsCenter ever care about women’s college soccer before that? But think about what Foudy said:
“Sure, there is jostling off the ball, and in the women’s game there’s even some hair pulling, yes, but oh my goodness, if you’re going to pull someone’s pony tail and about snap their head off with it, that is going over the line.”
Uh, Julie, forgive me for being a little dense here, but if there’s already HAIR PULLING in a game where the competitors (save for the goalies) can’t use their hands, hasn’t a line already been crossed? Sure, Lambert went batshit nuts, but if jostling and hair tugging is already par for the course in this sport, then how many other instances of Lambert-esque play never make SportsCenter because nobody cared enough to televise the event?
In the aftermath of that video going viral, Liz Lambert became a sort of female Jack Tatum. Not only did she brutalize the opposition, but she had the nerve to have a vagina while doing so. Oh, the horror, how positively unladylike of her!
I asked some friends who have daughters that play in competitive youth soccer leagues, and they were pretty much unfazed by what Lambert had done. One of them told me the following: “Their games are as brutal as anything you see on college football Saturday. They’re animals.” Hmmm, maybe Lambert’s actions are a little more commonplace than the casual American sports fan realizes. But nobody else got a million plus views on YouTube because of it.
New Mexico, which apparently was shamed to no end by Lambert’s actions, suspended her indefinitely after that loss to BYU. That suspension lasted two games into the current campaign, but once it was lifted, Lambert was by no means free:
For now, Elizabeth Lambert will be allowed to play, but the gag order on her right to exercise free speech has yet to be lifted. Athletics Director Paul Krebs said Tuesday that Lambert will be reinstated to the UNM women’s soccer team. Facing a possible season-long ban from the Mountain West Conference, Lambert instead served a two-game suspension.
“She has done everything and more that you can ever ask of somebody,” Krebs said. “She has arisen from that situation.” Now that her suspension is over, Lambert is eligible to compete in UNM’s away game against Wisconsin-Milwaukee, but head women’s soccer coach Kit Vela stopped short of saying Lambert would start or even be in the lineup on Friday, noting the team’s success so far in the vilified player’s absence. Early in the season, the Lobos are 2-0, and Vela said a roster shakeup isn’t necessarily needed. (The Daily Lobo)
A gag order? Really? The only public statement ever given by Lambert regarding her play in that BYU game last year was an interview she gave to Jere Longman of the New York Times. In it, she expressed genuine regret for what had transpired:
“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.” (New York Times)
When a person steps up to the plate like that to assume responsibility for his or her actions, what more can you ask for? Therefore, the gag order seemed more than a little odd to me. That’s until the Albuquerque Journal’s Toby Smith brought up an excellent point:
Almost a year later, two questions, stand out: What caused Lambert to go bananas? And, how exactly were so many people to know about what she did so quickly? The two teams had faced each other only a couple of weeks before, also in Provo, where BYU embarrassed the Lobos, 3-0. “Ran them up and down the field,” remembers Jared Lloyd, then a reporter for the Deseret News in Salt Lake City.
When the UNM women returned to Utah in early November, for the league tournament, the team needed to do well to advance to the NCAAs.
“They (the Lobos) came out really aggressively,” Lloyd says. “I sensed their coach had told them, ‘We’re going to really go after them. Don’t hold back.’ ” Soccer is a physical sport. It’s not cage fighting, yet contact exists. It did in this case, for both sides mixed it up. Lambert’s aggressiveness and frustration, ratcheted up now several notches, surely caused her to drop Shumway by the hair. It also caused her to punch a player, trip another, put a stranglehold on a third. BYU players, meanwhile, were no angels. They elbowed, shoved, talked trash. (Albuquerque Journal)
So New Mexico was up against a team that had cleaned its clock earlier in the season, and in the rematch came out playing much more aggressively. In that context, Lambert suddenly looks less like some rogue nutcase and more like a soccer player who was following the marching orders of her coach, Kit Vela. And I’m sure Vela doesn’t want Lambert spilling the beans about that to the media, thus the gag order.
If Vela was so horrified at how Lambert was playing, why didn’t she yank her earlier in the contest? You can see from the video that she was mixing it up with BYU players on several occasions. My theory is that Vela had absolutely no problem with the way Lambert played until the video went viral. At that point, her hand was forced and the suspension came about.
But Vela’s actions AFTER the suspension are just as curious to me. Because nobody cares about women’s college soccer (including me), it’s easy to miss the fact that New Mexico is currently ranked and working on a very special season. But Lambert has barely played at all since her suspension was lifted, a point which Toby Smith finds just as strange as I do:
Last year, before the incident, Lambert played the full 90 minutes of many games and put in solid work. Since her reinstatement on the UNM team, she has played sparingly. On Thursday night, she played in her first home match — a total of eight minutes — in a 3-0 win over Utah. Otherwise, it’s as if UNM has wanted to keep her out of the local spotlight. But sorry, coach, that spotlight found her long ago. (Albuquerque Journal)
Lambert’s bio on the New Mexico athletic site hows that she was a pretty important player on a winning team in 2009:
Started in all 21 games…took 20 shots…five were on goal…had a game-winning goal for the Lobos on Sept. 23 against Northern Colorado… earned 2009 Fall Academic All-Conference honors. (GoLobos.com)
I can see the excuse for this coming a mile away: New Mexico is winning and Vela doesn’t want to disrupt the delicate balance of her team. But in a 4-0 win over UNLV on October 1, Lambert didn’t play a second for New Mexico, not one. You mean to tell me that in a lopsided shutout win, a senior defender who started 21 games last season couldn’t have contributed anything in mop up time?
New Mexico’s first game against BYU since that ugliness last November was this past Saturday in Albuquerque. The contest also happened to be Lambert’s final home game as a New Mexico player. Of course, she didn’t even see the field during New Mexico’s double overtime victory. What a way to send her out.
You can make a strong case that Lambert’s suspension didn’t end after the second game of this season. No, it was pretty much permanent. Long after the drive by types had stopped vilifying her and forgotten about that viral video, she’s still paying the price.
Shame on Vela for being a gutless turd about this. I hope one day soon Lambert tells all about what (or rather “who”) really motivated her to play the way she did against BYU last November. And shame on New Mexico, too, which officially has the sorriest athletic department on either side of the Mississippi.
Think about this: New Mexico’s football coach, Sugar Mike Locksley, PUNCHED an assistant coach, threatened a reporter from the school newspaper and then put one of the worst football teams in recent history onto the field. The school hasn’t made him suffer one bit for any of that, but sanctions the blackballing of Liz Lambert.