Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Unsportsmanlike Conduct

Anyone catch this video on the news?

This is University of New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert. Before I go further: I don't want to pick on Ms. Lambert specifically. She's certainly not the first athlete to behave this way on the field, and sadly, she probably won't be the last. But she did get caught on video, which is what has sparked the intense coverage of her particular case. Well, that and the fact that she's female. I don't agree with those who think when a woman does this, it's somehow worse than when men do it. "Unsportsmanlike" conduct isn't limited to men; violence in sports knows no gender.

Whether the aggressor is male or female, I believe players who act in this manner should be suspended, if not outright banned from their sport. It's no longer a game when one player intentionally throws another to the ground in a way that risks breaking their neck. No one wants to play against a player like that. And frankly, no one wants a player like that on their team. There's a world of difference between being a competitive player (one who works hard to help a team win, which is a good thing) and a violent player.

Now, Ms. Lambert did apologize, stating, "I let my emotions get the best of me in a heated situation. I take full responsibility for my actions and accept any punishment felt necessary."

But--another rant--does an apology like that really make it better? There was no "I'm sorry." Saying those two words (and meaning them) is very different than saying, "I accept responsibility." And again, this isn't just Ms. Lambert. I hear this phrase a lot, both on television from athletes, celebrities, and politicians who've found themselves in hot water, and from run-of-the-mill folks I see in everyday life. It's become a catchphrase for, "I screwed up big time. Now let me off the hook."

Think about it. What does it mean, exactly, that someone "accept(s) responsibility?" It's an admission that someone actually did what they're being accused of (which, in Ms. Lambert's case, is on video, so duh.) And that someone is going to accept whatever punishment is doled out for their actions (and in Ms. Lambert's case, does she have a choice?) But that's not saying you're sorry for your behavior. "I accept responsibility" doesn't mean that you regret the actual action you took, as opposed to regretting the situation in which you've found yourself afterward.

In Ms, Lambert's case, she says that emotions got the best of her in a heated situation. Really? I don't think so. When a player acts that way repeatedly--punching one player, kicking others, then throwing yet another to the ground--it's not a heat-of-the-moment response to some unexpected event that happened in the game (not that that's excusable, either.) When one player strikes out repeatedly, that's a conscious decision. And it's not just Ms. Lambert. It happens all the time.

When did this become okay?

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