Elizabeth Lambert: The Making of a Monster

Phil ShoreCorrespondent INovember 18, 2009

MAPUTO, MOZAMBIQUE - NOVEMBER 14:  A general view of Estadio Nacional da Machava during the 2010 World Cup Qualifier match between Mozambique and Tunisia at the Estadio Nacional da Machava on November 14, 2009 in Maputo, Mozambique.  (Photo by Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Gallo Images/Getty Images

Basic rule of thumb for all athletes: Be careful what you do, because someone will see it.

In this day of 24-hour sports news coverage, Flip cams, cell phones that take video, and the Internet and YouTube, nothing will go unseen.

University of New Mexico women’s soccer team player Elizabeth Lambert didn’t get the memo.

During a Nov. 5, 2009 Mountain West Conference semifinal game against Brigham Young University, Lambert, a junior, was involved in incredibly unsportsmanlike plays , including elbowing a girl in the back and pulling another player down by her ponytail.

While she was involved in a number of heinous incidents on the field, she only received a yellow card. The video footage of her actions has resulted in further disciplinary action, though, and made her one of the most infamous athletes in the country.

ESPN aired the game footage as part of a highlight segment on SportsCenter, and the video was then posted on its YouTube page.

To date, the video has been viewed 1,275,126 times and generated 1,889 user comments. No video from that same day has been watched even 8,000 times. The closest was the Play of the Day video featuring a LeBron James slam dunk , viewed 7,160 times (with five comments attached to it).

The footage forced the hand of the school, which suspended the defender indefinitely for her actions during the game. The suspension was supported by the conference, saying that Lambert violated its sportsmanship policy.

The video has made Lambert into a YouTube sensation, and she will forever be notoriously known as the “ponytail girl.”

Lambert has finally spoken out on the incident, and watching the video may have caused her to take a step back, review her actions, and feel regret and sorrow.

“I look at it and I’m like, ‘That is not me,’” Lambert told The New York Times in an article published on Nov. 17. “I have so much regret. I can’t believe I did that.”

Lambert does say some parts of the video are taken out of context, either because they were inadvertent mishaps or they were part of the physical give-and-take of the match. However, the video doesn’t lie: The ponytail haul was not incited and is despicable enough to stand on its own.

The Times piece does say that Lambert is seeing a clinical psychologist to better understand her actions and will speak to youth teams about sportsmanship and to teach them to learn from her mistake.

Still, her reputation has been tarnished, and the video going viral has had an extraordinary amount to do with it.

The majority of the coverage has been focused on making Lambert the villain in this case, but some coverage should be given to spotlighting the other “accomplices” of Lambert’s crime.

The referees should most certainly face some blame. The refs can’t see everything, but in a soccer game there are at least three of them, one in the middle and one on each sideline. How none of them noticed any of the fouls (especially the ponytail yank) except for one trip is abhorrent.

Some of the fouls were also committed while Lambert was on the ball, so at least the center referee should have been watching. When you let this type of play slide, it only manifests itself into something bigger.

What were Lambert’s teammates thinking during all of this? While Lambert says it was a physical match, she went above and beyond to inflict pain. Her teammates have a responsibility to recognize that what Lambert did was wrong and at least get her to calm herself. Someone from BYU could have retaliated, on either Lambert or another New Mexico player, and the game could have been even uglier.

Also, some responsibility and blame should fall on head coach Kit Vela’s shoulders. Lambert’s actions were reprehensible. How does Vela allow her to stay in the game and continue to make infraction after infraction?

The coach is the figurehead of the team, especially in college athletics, and should hold true to the school’s, conference’s, and entire NCAA’s sportsmanship policies. No player should be above fair play. It is Vela’s job to recognize Lambert’s actions and pull her from the game.

Alas, Lambert is still responsible for her own actions.

The moral of this story is to always be on your best behavior, even when you think someone isn’t watching, because they are, and they’re going to share it with the world.