play the man and not the ball

play the man and not the ball

1. In sports, to pursue and make physical contact with an opposing player who is in possession of the ball, rather than the ball itself. Our coach is always yelling at us for playing the man and not the ball because unnecessary fouls drive him nuts.
2. To criticize someone at a personal level rather than criticizing something they have said, done, or made. Whoa, even if you don't like his art, you don't have to criticize him as a person. Quit playing the man and not the ball. A: "I think he's a complete moron to make an argument like that." B: "You're playing the man and not the ball. What about his argument don't you agree with?"
See also: and, ball, man, not, play
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.