Friday, November 20, 2009

It's All About The Context?

I've seen the videos of Elizabeth Lambert playing soccer for the University of New Mexico against Brigham Young University, and watched the snippets of Lambert mugging, pushing, hitting, and generally abusing opposing Cougar players. If you simply watch her actions taken from the condensed part of the video, you would see an player that seems to be playing like a deranged lunatic and pushing physical play to nearly incomprehensible levels. Some of my friends who are non-soccer fans have seen the video and seem outright shocked that things like that happen on the soccer pitch.
If you read Lambert's interview for the New York Times, she even admits that it's tough to watch her actions because she doesn't recognize the person playing out there. The elbowing, the hard tackling, the hair pulling, the tackle from behind, it's all tough to watch even for soccer fans, because taken simply for what is shown in the condensed video, her actions could be labeled as assault. Lambert has been suspended from the Lobos soccer team indefinitely, and she is now working on repairing the damage from her actions. She's talking to people about what happened, she's talking with a psychologist, and working on her mental state so that she can hopefully return to the team next year for her senior season.
She appears to be horrified and apologetic about her actions, and trying to make amends as best as possible, realizing that she's crossed a conduct line on the field. There's regret in her words, and I can only imagine what it's like to have your actions put out there for all to see in grand fashion only to realize you've done something truly horrible. It's hard enough for me to look directly at the people I've wronged at points because of the guilt I feel, and I've never done anything close to this in such a public forum. Instead of being a defender on the soccer pitch, Lambert will have to live with the label of being "that girl", "that player" or other horrific names for the rest of her career.
Just ask Kermit Washington, Ron Artest or LeGarrette Blount what it's like to live with such a stigma. Washington had a good NBA career and currently works in sports broadcasting, but every time there is a serious transgression on the field of play, you see the footage of Washington striking former player Rudy Tomjanovich during a game. Washington served what was at the time the longest suspension in NBA history for his actions. Artest was central figure in one of the worst scenes in sports, an on court brawl in Detroit when the Indiana Pacers were in town that spilled into the crowd. It was labeled as one of the worst on-court incidents until Blount lost his composure on the smurf turf in Boise, and had his most famous meltdown. Go on the Internet and you can see the incidents up close and personal, and it's hard not to be horrified at what you see. And now Lambert's footage joins the list of incidents above as an indictment of sports and athletic conduct during the match.
I've never played sports on that level, so I can't begin to imagine the pressure and stress athletes go through when they are being constantly scrutinized, examined, and compartmentalized. I can imagine that the scrutiny is difficult to live with, which is why many athletes have an adversarial relationship with the media. Everyone seems to be an expert after the fact, saying what should have occurred or what they would have been done if they were in that situation, but imagine if you really were on the court when Artest went berzerk or when Lambert was pulling the opposing players' hair. Could any of us truly say we'd be above such conduct in the heat of the moment, especially if you review the incident in the context of the entire game or season?
It's easy to pinpoint one incident and make snap decisions about people, making them live with the consequences of their actions. While they really should live with some of the ramifications of things they do, we also paint ourselves as a society where second chances are readily provided and we like hearing about people that have regained their stature after a rough incident. But those beliefs have to be tempered with some other situations that don't make it always easy to return from the brink.
The Internet keeps track of everything most athletes have said or down, so these incidents never really go away but instead they fade until something happens and then they live a new life in comparison. You have the pressure of televisions and cameras being everywhere, catching every moment of events. I've also heard athletes say it's only a penalty if the official catches it, and most of them are extremely competitive in every aspect of their lives. Combine these with the pressure of winning or performing well, and you can see a recipe for one stressed out society which doesn't make things like this easy to deal with. You also can't forget the influence of moral codes, which is a source for argument amongst even the best of friends or family members. Things like this aren't just black and white situations where you can paint a picture and immediately point at a person or situation and say who is to blame. I didn't see the entire game where Lambert melted down, but apparently the game was physical on both sides, but she took it to the extreme in her reaction. Artest was trying to decompress from something that happened on the court and got hit with a drink from the crowd that started the ugliness.
This is what I mean by context, because none of us are really able to understand exactly what happened, we simply need to react to the aftermath and try to deal with it as best as we can. Just because these things happen on the sports field doesn't mean that sports are dangerous or bad influences in general, it simply means that as a society, we all deal with pressure and stress and it's up to us to find ways to deal with them without resorting to violence. I admire Lambert for being open to talking about her situation and realizing that while this is a mistake, she's doing all she can to rectify the situation. Washington has done his part to try and resolve his issue, while Blount has been reinstated to the team but sequestered from the media.
I'm not sure that's the right approach here, because part of the process of recovery is allowing the person to move away from the mistake and show apology and repentance. Otherwise, you might end up living with the mistake for the rest of your life, and I'm not sure that's the way anyone would want to live. As far as context is concerned, showing your human side is the most important thing we can all do. Now showing my human side, I would really appreciate it if someone could help me get rid of these guys, cause that would make me really happy.

No comments: