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A Little Bit of Mercy

The soccer game on the brightly-lit green field was a fine surprise.

I'd finished teaching my first class of the semester. I watched from the hill overlooking the field for a few minutes, then walked down to the fence bordering the pitch and saw that the score stood at five to nothing. A few minutes later, number 10 on the home side cut from her position on the left wing toward the goal, waited as a high cross tipped off the beleaguered keeper's hand, and adroitly tapped the ball into the empty net. 6-nil.

From the far sideline, a fan shouted, "Okay, it's six. Might as well make it seven."

Attendance was sparse. Everybody in the stands could hear him. So could everybody on the field.
What was it like for the women on the team down six to hear that guy call for number seven?

Driving home, I thought about the "mercy rule." It was a regulation that operated in the municipal baseball league in which I used to play. When the gap between two teams was ten runs or more after five innings, the winning team was declared to have "mercyed" the other side, and everybody shook hands and went home.

It's a good rule. A team can lose badly, and even be humiliated, but even the most inept team is unlikely to be utterly humiliated.

Genuine mercy doesn't occur as the result of a rule, of course, but in these vile and twisted days, who can count on a gift that's supposed to drop as the gentle rain from heaven?

I thought about the goal keeper who'd already let in six.
She could have hoped for rain, of course. Not the gentle kind, but the palpable stuff that eventually would have made the officials cold and wet enough so that they might have called off the remainder of the match. She could have hoped the coach of the winning team would clear his bench, but by then, given how dispirited her defense was looking, that might not have helped. What she needed was the mercy rule, and it was over in the municipal league.

It is regularly asserted that our games teach us determination, perseverance, the value of hard and constant practice, the glory of team work and all sorts of other indisputably worthy lessons. More's the pity they don't more often teach us mercy.

This program aired on September 14, 2006. The audio for this program is not available.

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