Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Why wasn't Elizabeth Lambert stopped the first time?

During a conference playoff women's soccer match between New Mexico and BYU, NMU player Elizabeth Lambert got herself on the national radar for all the wrong reasons:

Eventually, she issued what I'm sure was an apology hand crafted in part by New Mexico Athletics. She is suspended indefinitely and I would be surprised if she ever plays for them again.

My question isn't so much why she did it, as I'm sure she just lost her mind and once someone loses her mind there's no rationalizing a meltdown.

No, my question is how she was able to do it so many times. I've watched my fair share of soccer, and I find that the first time you so much as slide tackle someone a little too maliciously (let alone punch someone in the back, or dodgeball someone's head with a kicked ball, or hair-pull takedown somebody), you tend to get no less than a yellow card, and often you'll get red carded and sent off from the match.

Yes, it was a playoff match and going down 11 to 10 trailing 1 to nil would have essentially put a nail in New Mexico's coffin. But refs didn't let the competitive circumstances stop them from running French star Zinedine Zidane after he headbutted an Italian player in the 2006 World Cup Final. Refs in the NCAA Tournament don't let the do-or-die format stop them from calling a 5th and disqualifying foul on a team's star player. If you commit a foul, you commit a foul and it's an official's duty to call it accordingly.

You can argue that Elizabeth Lambert's actions are themselves inexcusable, but what's just as inexcusable is that the Mountain West soccer referees didn't immediately send her off the 1st time she committed a flagrant foul, let alone the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th or umpteenth time. That they let her stay in the match and turn it into an informal one-sided catfight is a collective act of gross negligence on their part. Those officials ought to be punished themselves.

80-90% of those violations never happen if Elizabeth Lambert was sent off after the first flagrant act of violence on a BYU player. The best argument given for allowing the catfight style of 'play' to go is that said play is part of women's soccer. But honestly, I'm not sure how one can argue the hair pulling, malicious tackles and punches to the back are excusable at any level of soccer. The officials have to nip it in the bud, or you end up with spectacles like the one Elizabeth Lambert put forth in this match.

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