Meet the Lamberts, Elizabeth and Adam. No, they're not really related - at least by blood. But they are related socially. Both are the victims of gender and sex discrimination and the galloping double standard.
To review, ladies first. Elizabeth Lambert, a defender on the University of New Mexico women's soccer team, played out of control in the team's 1-0 loss to Brigham Young University. At one point, she viciously pulled down an opposing midfielder by her ponytail, sending her opponent flying to the turf. The video went viral. A new, non-sexual episode of "Girls Gone Wild." Check it out for yourself.
Inexcusable. Offensive. Truly out of bounds. And Elizabeth Lambert has been suspended indefinitely by her team.
Not so LaGarrette Blount, the University of Oregon running back who viciously cold-cock punched an unhelmeted opposing player after his team's upset loss to Boise State. Watch this.
Initially, Blount was suspended from the team indefinitely, but then reinstated for the November 14 game against Arizona State because...well, because the team was in contention for a BCS bowl berth and he's a good player. Watch Oregon in their bowl game and see if he plays.
You see, when a bad-ass black man behaves badly, people may get upset, angry and outraged. Sometimes they'll even shrug their shoulders and say "well, what did you expect" -- an offensively racist comment.
Many of these plays resulted in red cards, some in yellow cards. But none of these players missed more than a game. I imagine that few, if any, offered tearful apologies to their teammates, fans and friends. They'd be more likely to say, "It's the way the game is played -- hard and aggressive."
Make no mistake: I'm not condoning, let alone celebrating Elizabeth Lambert's actions on the field. She seemed to have been out of control all match, shoving, stomping, slide tackling and punching her way to that moment where she yanked her opponent's hair. I am saying, however, that had she been a male player, and she yanked Ronaldinho's long ponytail, she would have got a red card from the refs, cheers and boos in equal measure from the fans, and probably a surreptitious high-five from his teammates. And the event would be long forgotten.
When a man behaves like a boorish man, it's no big deal. But it's amplified when a woman behaves like a boorish man. Somehow it reflects on her entire gender, as if the very idea of female athletes brings out such unladylike behavior.
Reminds me of the unprecedented fine levied against Serena Williams for her -- also inexcusable -- tirade against a lineswoman in the finals of the U.S. Open (while she avoided suspension, Serena is on probation for two years -- for behaving badly, yes, but also not a drop worse than John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, or Ilie Nastase did on an average day. I made this argument in my column about Serena at the time).
But this past week, sports was not the only arena in which such hypocritical double standards were in evidence. Think of what happened to Adam Lambert, the controversial runner-up on American Idol -- controversial not only because he was light years better than the bland winner, Kris Allen, but also because he was so obviously and flamboyantly gay. On the American Music Awards show -- live! In Technicolor! -- Lambert knocked the entire solar system off its axis by kissing a male bandmate and simulating mock fellatio in his live uncensored performance.
The video again went viral -- well, that is until Dick Clark Productions declared the event "pornographic" and pulled access and threatened to sue anyone who posted it on Youtube (the West Coast edition cut to the drummer so the audience didn't have to see such behavior). So we're left with the Access Hollywood version, complete with and interview with Lambert after the fact, in which he notes how discriminatory it would be to censor him for that West Coast airing of the live-on-the-East-Coast show.
Well, yeah, okay, over the top. But any more over the top than Nelly's "Tip Drill" or, come to think of it, any number of simulated heterosexual fellatio episodes and other sexually explicit "wardrobe malfunctions" seen nightly on any number of TV shows?
The next day, ABC's Good Morning America cancelled Lambert's appearance on the show, citing his inappropriate behavior (CBS immediately grabbed him for their morning show). And then, in one of those rare moments that reveal how homophobia trumps misogyny in the Top Ten Motives for Censorship list, GMA invited Chris Brown to appear instead of the snubbed Lambert. Yes, that's right, the same Chris Brown who slugged his girlfriend Rhianna this past summer. All is forgiven, Chris! Come back to the TV fans who still love you! But Adam, you kissed a guy! That is simply unforgivable!
It's rare that in the space of a couple of weeks our despicable double standards have been so conspicuously revealed. When straight men do bad stuff, well, that's just men behaving badly. But when men of color, gay men, or women of any race behave badly we rush to censorious judgment and express horror and outrage.
That such a double standard is the way that racism, sexism or homophobia work would only be to state the tautology. The obvious insult to women or to gay men is evident in the case of both Lamberts.
But I think it goes deeper than that. I think it's actually a form of male bashing. After all, it assumes that men will, of course, do bad things -- it's in their nature to misbehave. Men, we assume, are violent rapacious animals, so when they behave like it, well, we just shrug our shoulders in resignation. "Boys will be boys," we say -- by which we usually mean they'll be marauding animals. Isn't that just a wee bit insulting, guys? Don't you think we can do better than that?
So let's cut everyone a break. Let's lighten up when women or gay people do what we allow men and straight people do all the time with virtual impunity. But at the same time, let's tighten up the scrutiny and hold those same straight people and men to those higher standards we seem to only want to apply to women and gays. Let's enable women and gays to act like fallible humans, and let men act a little more humane at the same time.