For now, Elizabeth Lambert will be allowed to play, but the gag order on her right to exercise free speech has yet to be lifted.
Athletics Director Paul Krebs said Tuesday that Lambert will be reinstated to the UNM women’s soccer team. Facing a possible season-long ban from the Mountain West Conference, Lambert instead served a two-game suspension.
“She has done everything and more that you can ever ask of somebody,” Krebs said. “She has arisen from that situation.”
Now that her suspension is over, Lambert is eligible to compete in UNM’s away game against Wisconsin-Milwaukee, but head women’s soccer coach Kit Vela stopped short of saying Lambert would start or even be in the lineup on Friday, noting the team’s success so far in the vilified player’s absence. Early in the season, the Lobos are 2-0, and Vela said a roster shakeup isn’t necessarily needed.
That ease-her-in attitude might be beneficial, since some hecklers have not forgotten what Lambert did.
In a turbulent, physical match, Lambert tugged on BYU’s Kassidy Shumway’s pony tail, sending her tumbling to the ground, where she writhed in pain. Unable to keep her emotions in check, after receiving a elbow to the ribs, Lambert responded with a forearm shiver to the back of a BYU player.
Several media outlets, including the Daily Lobo, have inquired about conducting an interview with Lambert to no avail. Since November, Lambert has been on media freeze, much of that time spent away from the team as a part of punishment for her role in the incident in Provo, Utah.
Even Tuesday, when Krebs and Vela addressed Lambert’s reinstatement, Lambert was unavailable for comment.
Forced uncomfortably into the spotlight, Krebs said Lambert doesn’t want to be the center of attention and instead wants her team to be the focal point, but given her cooperation with the conditions of her reinstatement, it would have been criminal not to allow her back on the team.
Krebs said Lambert hasn’t shirked her responsibilities to the community. She actively participated in community service, kept her grades up and lived up to other internal requirements demanded by the Athletics Department.
“Given all the publicity, all the focus on the Internet, the YouTube sensation, I think she wants to play soccer and not have her picture and video splashed over the Internet once again,” Krebs said. “We want to help her move forward.”
Moving forward, though, might be quite an undertaking for some people.
Lambert’s rough-and-tumble play was denounced across the country and, in some cases, internationally. She was chastised on newspaper message boards, sometimes unfairly, with some over-the-top bloggers leaving perverse and overtly sexist comments.
During Tuesday’s media luncheon, Vela said the incident was polarizing media-wise.
“I think the Internet and the media are great resources,” she said. “We wouldn’t be where we are without, but I think when something goes that viral, when it was an honest mistake, and I say a mistake because she was in the heat of competition, I think it’s unfortunate that it can become that negative.”
On a personal level, Vela said as a mother, it was heart-wrenching to see Lambert made into a national pariah, especially because she wouldn’t want her children to be treated in that matter if they made a similar mistake.
“My players are like my family,” she said. “It was like my own child was out who made a mistake. We tried to treat as one of our own, and she is.”
From the start, Lambert appeared to be contrite and apologized for her behavior. In her only interview to date with the New York Times, Lambert said her actions on the field weren’t indicative of the person or player she is.
“I think the way the video came out, it did make me look like a monster,” Lambert said. “That’s not the type of player I am. I’m not just out there trying to hurt players. That’s taking away from the beauty of the game. And I would never want to do that.”