play the ball and not the man

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play the ball and not the man

1. In sports, to pursue the ball when it is in an opposing player's possession, rather than making physical contact with the player. Our coach is always yelling at us to play the ball and not the man because unnecessary fouls drive him nuts.
2. By extension, to make an argument or objection without engaging in personal attacks. Whoa, even if you don't like his art, you don't have to criticize him as a person. Play the ball and not the man. A: "I think he's a complete moron." B: "Yeah, well, play the ball and not the man. What about his argument makes you feel that way?"
See also: and, ball, man, not, play
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.