The Power of Prime

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Sports: Bravo Elizabeth Lambert...Sort Of

Does Elizabeth Lambert deserve applause?

Elizabeth Lambert has become an overnight sensation...but not in a good way. Thanks to the viral power of youtube, her decidedly unsportspersonlike (we can't say unsportsmanlike any longer) behavior during a recent college soccer game has landed her in the Deplorable Behavior Hall of Shame along side such luminaries as Kermit Washington, Bill Romanowski, Mike Tyson, just to name a few males, and, the only other female athlete to meet its lofty (or should I say base) standards, Tonya Harding.

Ms. Lambert's repeated and unprovoked physical assaults on opposing players during a recent game are truly appalling in their own right. But that's not what really shocked me. You can see that sort of outrageousness regularly in men's professional sports. And it's usually a badge of honor (unless truly over the top or injurious) for male athletes. Such behavior from men is usually rationalized as being expressions of their passion, intensity, and commitment to winning. This sophomoric behavior typically receives a wink, a nod, and a conspiratorial grin - boys will be boys! - and a place in the daily ESPN Sports Center highlights, right along side the trash talking and touchdown dances.

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What made Ms. Lambert's behavior stand out was that it came from a woman. Quite simply, it violated our long-standing perceptions of lady-like decorum and our belief that female athletes are somehow above the lowly behavior so often exhibited by their male counterparts. Plus, it flew in the face of the uber-sportspersonship we typically see among professional and Olympic female athletes; their message on and off the field usually is "it's just a game!"

From the reports I read and watched, I also sensed a perverse attraction by male viewers in the same vein as women's wrestling (whether of the mud, vegetable oil, or other varieties) and the Lingerie Football League. Sort of a lesbian dominatrix thing going on. Men love a good cat fight, even if it's one sided. Male viewers may have been morally outraged, but they were also viscerally titillated.

I also heard and read a number of "you go, girl!" reactions from women. My guess is that many women were conflicted. Consciously, they were appalled by Ms. Lambert's shameful behavior. At the same time, based on comments I received from a handful of young female athletes, some actually respected her aggressiveness and were quietly envious of how she gave her opponents "the smackdown" (doesn't everyone want to do that to someone periodically?).

I certainly don't approve of Ms. Lambert's incredibly inappropriate behavior and I hope that her punishment far exceeds a simple suspension. At the same time, I find myself applauding what she did, at least in the big-picture symbolic sense. Ms. Lambert has blown our antiquated notions of women out of the water. No longer can we think of women as subtle, back-stabbing passive-aggressors (bye, bye Gossip Girls and Desperate Housewives). She showed us that women can be just as nasty, vicious, and "in your face" as any guy. And isn't that an important step forward in the evolution of women in our society.

Jim Taylor, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco.

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