Friday, November 20, 2009

Soccer violence

We recently witnessed video footage seen here: of a University New Mexico and Brigham Young University soccer game displaying Elizabeth Lambert, a junior, committing a series of excessively rough plays, including yanking BYU forward Kassidy Shumway to the ground by her ponytail. The video clip made her an Internet sensation and opened her to scornful criticism.

In her first interview after the game, Lambert stated that her action was indefensible, which led to her indefinite suspension from the New Mexico team. She further stated that she has watched the game and does not recognize herself pulling down Brigham Young’s Kassidy Shumway.

“I look at it and I’m like, ‘That is not me,’ ” said Lambert, a defender and an all-conference academic player. “I have so much regret. I can’t believe I did that.”
However, she said other moments of aggressive play — in which Lambert elbowed a Brigham Young player in the back, received a yellow card for tripping, seemed to throw a punch at an opponent’s head, and made a hard tackle from behind — came during the forceful, insistent play that routinely occurs in women’s soccer, but might be misunderstood by casual fans.

“I still deeply regret it and will always regret it and will carry it through the rest of my life not to retaliate,” said Lambert, a 20-year-old junior on scholarship.
At the Center for ETHICS*, we have studied moral reasoning development in athletes for over 25 years. Through longitudinal research, we have seen a decline in athlete moral reasoning. It appears that the longer an athlete is involved in competitive sport, the lower the moral reasoning. Likewise, we have recently studied aggression in women’s collegiate soccer. Like Lambert stated, violations such as tripping, elbowing, and tackling from behind regularly occur during the context of a soccer match. However, what athletes sometimes fail to realize is that this creates a slippery slope which can spiral out of control. As stated earlier, Lambert did not recognize herself enacting the violent behavior that is now being continuously replayed via the Web.

Through a series of interviews with coaches, players, and officials in our aggression in women’s soccer study, it appears violence becomes more prevalent when soccer players perceive their opponents are intentionally aggressing upon them or their teammates (Stephens & Kavanagh, 2003). Also it seemed that intentional acts of violence were partially due to frustration from the opposing team playing overtly aggressive and committing hard fouls. Also, each of the interviewees claimed that they would retaliate against an opponent if they believed they were playing explicitly aggressive. If this is the case, then one can see where a player such as Lambert may lose control or cause an opponent to display similar behavior.
Due to this recent event, the effectiveness of an intervention program on the reasoning process in players, coaches, parents, peers, and referees would be valuable. Stoll (2001) states that perhaps an intervention program which emphasizes prime moral values such as justice, honesty, respect, responsibility, and beneficence would be valuable in enhancing the appropriate behavior and aid the reasoning process in athletes, coaches, parents, peers, and referees. In addition, Lickona (1991) states that for unethical behavior to change, one needs to consistently practice sound ethical behavior for it to become habitual. Future studies should examine the roles coaches, parents, peers, players, and referees can play in emphasizing positive moral values necessary to play within the spirit of the game.

Though Lambert’s recent acts are undeniably indecent, we must remember that aggression in women’s collegiate soccer occurs often and that she just happened to get caught on that slippery slope that carried her competition too far. Perhaps some time away from the game and some reflection may be the best thing that ever happens to her. After all, we should use this as a teaching moment for all of us, not just Elizabeth Lambert.

Justin Barnes, Ph.D.
University of Idaho
Center for ETHICS*

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