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Does ponytail pull sully the wholesome vibe of women’s sports? Is that OK?

November 9, 2009 – 11:19 AM

By Laura Pappano

NM soccer player Elizabeth Lambert’s hair yanking, punching, and nasty behavior have gone viral. She’s being labeled the “dirtiest player” in women’s soccer and – depending on who’s writing or talking – all of women’s sports.

What makes Lambert’s behavior so outrageous (aside from being captured on video) is that girls are supposed to play nice.

The image of female athletes as more than skilled players – as good, wholesome people – is a centerpiece of women’s sports and a staple of marketing, promotion, and ticket-selling, particularly in basketball and soccer.

This has been both a benefit and a limitation that has helped shape women’s sports as “gentler” fare.

Of course, Lambert is not the first athlete to get in trouble for hair pulling. Last month, Oakland Raider’s defensive tackle Richard Seymour was reportedly fined $7,500 for pulling Broncos tackle Ryan Clady’s hair (also caught on tape). In August, Semi Tadulala, a Fijian rugby player, faced a one match suspension after pulling the ponytail of Eorl Crabtree during play between the Bradford Bulls and Hudderfield Giants.

Hairpulling, like grabbing opponents’ privates in the football pile-up or purposely seeking to injure another player, is blatant dirty play. Unfortunately, nasty play is more common than you’d think, though less so among female athletes.

A study on sportsmanship by the Josephson Institute asked male and female high school athlete about questionable scenarios (test your own sportsmanship here). They found:

—    29 percent of males felt it was all right to “attack” a pre-existing injury of a top scorer on the opposing team (another 22 percent were unsure). Among female athletes, 66 percent knew such behavior was improper.
—  69 percent of males and 55 percent of females felt it was all right for a hockey coach to put a player on the ice specifically to intimidate opponents and protect the team’s players.
—   43 percent of males and 22 percent of females believed it was okay for a basketball coach to teach young players how to illegally push and hold in ways that were difficult for referees to detect.

A family-friendly, role-model-for-kids image hardly holds up with someone like Lambert on the field. On the other hand, this is likely the first time SportsCenter, the NFL pre-game show on Fox (from Afghanistan no less!), and thousands of sports talk radio shows across the country gave air time to women’s college soccer.

This is where men’s sports (and the broadcasters whose definition of “hockey highlights” are on-ice brawls) could use a little self-reflection. As a society and fans who value fair play, we should spend some airtime and outrage on bad on-field behavior among male athletes, too. The integrity of players — male and female — is what makes sports bigger than the game.

  1. 2 Responses to “Does ponytail pull sully the wholesome vibe of women’s sports? Is that OK?”

  2. As a former athlete, reader of your books and coach of women’s soccer. I really appreciated that you spoke up on this issue. First, I do not support the behavior; however, I feel like there is a clear double standard. Men are expected to head hunt. Hockey may be the best example where full out, knockdown fights break out and players are recruited to be enforcers. This enforcer mentality exist in just about every sport (male or female) and is expected. We even saw it in the world series as pitchers exchanged beaming batters with 90 mph pitches.

    Well, not to belabor the issue, but I am disappointed that we vilified Ms. Lambert but heard little on the issue involving the Univ. of FLA linebacker’s eye-gouging.

    I personally do not want women to play like men. Heck, I don’t want us labeling play as things men would do vs things women do. I want them to play and enjoy playing the sport, not societies expectation of the sport. I think we need more coaches who understand the differences in coaching each sex, and there are major differences. I think we need to have better training for coaches at all levels. We need to move away from the idea that this is just the way it is.


    By J on Nov 21, 2009

  3. Ms. Pappano,

    I am sorry to say but your blog has entertained me not for the fact that it is interesting content but rather because it is ridiculous. Your whole point of view on this Elizabeth Lambert situation is absoulutely absurd. In this blog you state two examples of men in professional sports pulling another person’s hair and only recieving a fine in one case and a one day suspension in the other case. First of all I saw the video of the first case with Raiders linebacker Richard Seymour pulling another players hair and it was nowhere near as viscous as Elizabeth Lambert’s was. And in case you weren’t aware because you and the other person that commented apparently are not football, rugby, and hockey are in nature just a bit more violent and combative that soccer. I would love for you to point out an incident in mens soccer when the same exact thing has happened, not only the hair pulling, but also punching another player in the back and making numerous dirty tackles that were obviously not “going for the ball tackles” and tell me how it was dealt with differently or swept under the rug. This is simply to put it frank complete BS because if this same thing was caught on film in a mens soccer game there would be just as much outrage as there is in this situation. I first came across some of your “wisdom” in an article you were quoted in on the Associated Press website. You say, “We forgive Michael Vick, and gasp when Serena Williams screams at a line judge’s late call at the U.S. Open. No one likes dirty play. But if Elizabeth Lambert just made people see that women’s sports are highly intense, competitive, and exciting, well, good for her.” This I can tell you is one of the mist comical ridiculous statements that I have ever read. Lets start from the beginning and pick apart these bogus statements. First of all you say We forgive Michael Vick. He went to prison in case you forgot and did his time, its not like anyone gave him a free pass and the majority of the US has NOT forgiven him and he will be forever know as the football player who fought dogs. Then you say and we “gasped” when Serena screams at a line judges late call. I guess you could call saying, “I am going to shove this f***ing ball down your f***ing throat.”, simply screaming at a line judge and ya your right im sure it was completely called for for serena to blatantly threaten a young woman’s life because she was trying to do her job. But once again I am sure your implications that you make are spot on, If Rafael Nadal did the same thing to a young linejudge and we caught it all on tape it would probably all just be shrugged off because that kind of behavior is expected from a guy. Lastly I love how you say that this makes people see that women’s sports are “exciting, then good for her.” This is saying that you think what she did was beneficial and actual produced good. It is pretty sad that you think that is what womens sports need to be exciting. Please respond because I look forward to you providing me with some actual examples that are very similar to the lamberts and serena williams situations that occurred with men and for you to show me how the media treated men completely different. Good day and I look forward to more completely “un-biased” views.

    By Stephen Drew on Nov 22, 2009

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