(Originally published on 7/11/17, “Operation Restore”)
Alistair, an adult amateur player, asks:
Who fouls if a defender kicks the ball away from the attacker’s strike zone while in mid-swing and the attacker then kicks the defender’s ankle in the follow through?
OK, Alistair, were you the defender or the attacker in this little scene? Fess up. By the way, “strike zones” are for baseball players, but we think we get your drift. What makes you think that the only two options are to charge one or the other player with a foul? How about, no one committed a foul? Or, perhaps, each committed a foul?
We’re not necessarily advocating any of these options but you have to admit they have to be considered in addition to the two you posed. Frankly, without seeing the scene unfold, together with what immediately preceded and followed the main event, any answer we might give would be totally theoretical. This is one of those decisions that vitally depend on nuances.
To be a foul within the framework of Law 12, the kick by the defender would not be an offense if, under all the facts and circumstances, the referee deemed the action to be not careless, reckless, or performed with excessive force. Likewise for the kick by the attacker (though at least the attacker has one thing going for her — her kicking action started as a play of the ball and only evolved through momentum into a kick of the opponent’s ankle. Nor do we have any information as to the vigor with which each kick was performed. And about that “strike zone” — where and how wide is it? And what happened as a result of this interplay of kicks? Was the attacker in motion at the time of the contact? Did the defender have to reach through the attacker’s legs to get to this “strike zone?” Was the attacker’s follow through of her leg truly due solely to momentum or did she see a way she might “get even” for having the ball stolen from her while otherwise seeming innocent of any evil intent? All of these questions (and others) provide potentially relevant data bearing on the carelessness, recklessness, or excessive force of each of the respective player’s actions.
If we were a lawyer arguing a case based on “balancing the equities,” we might say that the sequence was initiated by the defender who should thus bear the burden of proof that her kick endangered the safety of the attacker. The attacker’s lawyer might argue that she couldn’t help what happened and the defender’s ankle simply got in the way. And the judge might conclude that both parties were guilty of contributory negligence — they were adults, after all, and old enough to assume the risks rather than being kids for whom we have a special responsibility to protect their safety.
Sorry. It still comes down to — you hadda be there. All we can do from our safe, off-field vantage point is to suggest some of the issues that would need to be taken into account in reaching a decision.