Like Dallas Cowboys fans around the world, I was yelling at the television yesterday. As you know if you follow NFL football at all, Cowboys wide receiver Terrence Williams caught a pass from Dak Prescott with time running out. If he had cut right and gone out of bounds, he would have stopped the clock in time for Dan Bailey to try a game-winning field goal. But he cut left, was tackled, and the game ended.
I told my wife that I’d never seen a more bone-headed play. Junior high football players know better, I ranted. How could he possibly not know to get out of bounds? Dez Bryant was standing in front of him, pointing at the sideline as he turned back into the field. I was there with him in spirit.
The social media universe has been even harsher than I was. I won’t repeat what is being said about the beleaguered wide receiver today.
But here’s the problem: none of us listened to Williams’s explanation before we rendered our verdict. And it turns out, he was trying to do the right thing under the circumstances.
He told reporters after the game: “I was just doing my best to just put the team in position to kick a field goal, but obviously I should’ve just followed the rules and got out of bounds. That was the whole purpose of me cutting it in, to go right back to the sideline to pick up more yardage. I was thinking at the break in the huddle it was already third and 13, in my mind I was trying to make the first guy miss, and then just dive out of bounds, but it didn’t go as planned. I should just have followed the rules and gone out of bounds.”
In other words, Williams cut left so he could get enough yardage to make a field goal realistic, fully intending then to cut right and get out of bounds. There was enough time on the clock for him to make both moves, except that he was tackled before he could cut back to the sideline.
Obviously, his plan didn’t work. But it’s not that he didn’t have a plan.
Here’s my point: it’s usually too soon to jump to conclusions. Until we talk to people, it’s seldom safe to talk about them. A counselor once noted that there is almost always “one thing more” we don’t know about a person, one insight or fact that would help us understand their behavior. We may still not agree with what they did, but at least we would understand why they did it.
This principle applies to far more than football. There was a time when critics of public figures had to make themselves public when they criticized them. Reporters must put their names on their newspaper columns; television commentators are as public as those they discuss.
But in the social media world, anyone can criticize anyone on any platform at any time using any name they can fabricate. Critics are safe from being criticized. They can jump to any conclusion without fear that someone will jump on them.
Christians should display a different spirit. We are taught to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), to talk to people before we talk about them (Matthew 18:15). When we display more light than heat, more grace than anger, the world takes note of us. We demonstrate the spirit of Jesus and draw people to him.
I still wish Terrence Williams had cut right. So does he. But he was trying to do the right thing. So should we.