Off-Setting Penalties

Up to several times per game, football fans will high five at penalties called against the opposing team only to find them declared void as their own squad had also committed infractions on the same play.  At times, arguments ensue (on the field and otherwise), coaches look skyward and players ask as Judas, “Is it I?”  It can be beyond the comprehension of fans that an impartial party would find against their darlings though their incredulity is mostly one-sided.  As one who has committed offensive and defensive illegalities, I identify with those found on the wrong side of the rulebook and can speak for the disenfranchised. 

I remind myself that all players get flagged sometime.  It is often said that a person who makes no mistakes is a person that is not accomplishing much.  If the gridiron gang is soft, they will not be charged with many penalties, but they will also not win many games.  I like to see a team that tries, and it is heartwarming to watch players strive in the face of certain defeat.  Many times, I have watched the game clock wind down on my efforts knowing there was no path to victory.  It is a sickening feeling to watch the other team leap and cheer a win when your valiant attempt ended in defeat and disappointment.

Occasionally, a player will commit an intentional foul.  Boy, I sure have (and let many good chances pass).  This is often done in frustration.  It’s passing strange that we, sometimes, do the exact wrong thing in anxiety and sink into deeper depression.  If we are disenfranchised, our hasty actions put us at greater risk.  Athletes must learn to control themselves when the calls go against them.  It can be better to walk away and live to fight another day.  When we are overtaken in faults, it will be better for us if they were honestly made and not acts of retribution remembering that we are not the Skycam.

There are different points of view on the same play and game in general.  It goes without saying that each team will credit itself with more virtuous competition than their rival, but there are other differing perspectives, as well.  Several officials man every contest.  Each has a different responsibility to perform in game legislation.  When the whistle is blown, and you see the callers huddle for up to a few minutes, they are conferring on the fouls.  Occasionally, flags are picked up, and play is resumed without penalty.  Their job is to get it right, not to help you win.  I have a self-protecting bias not shared by the judges. 

Not all transgressions are of the same degree.  Some are assessed worthy of greater loss than others. However, if there are off-setting penalties, the offenses cancel on another and neither team is dunned.  As we might imagine, whichever team would have received the greater advantage is most aggrieved while the other breathes a sigh of relief.  In life, it often seems that some get more “no calls” than others, but Scripture teaches us that comparisons within the race are not wise.  Truth is, to break God’s law in one area is to be guilty of the whole, and none of us is really better than the other.

Paul compared the Christian life to an athletic contest.  He wrote on training and gamesmanship in the fight and race for salvation and sanctification.  Admonishing us not to criticize one another (since we have all committed errors), he encouraged us to compete legally to win the prize and the victor’s crown.  We are reminded that there is an impartial Judge Who will reward us in the end for our heroics and hustle.  Though He doesn’t eject players from games except in cases of the most severe torts, He does keep accurate records in all statistical categories, and He has never been overturned or missed a call.


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