Should a footballer feel bad for missing a penalty? Bernard Williams's notion of agent-regret might hold the answer...by Jake Wojtowicz / July 23, 2018 / Leave a comment
Football is full of errors. The misplaced pass, the shot gone awry, the bungled clearance. Few of these decide a game, and we don’t expect players to dwell on every mistake. But sometimes these actions do decide a game—then the player (and the fans) can’t help but dwell.
The most obvious time this happens is when a player misses a penalty in a shootout, but the same goes for the striker who misses an open goal or the goalkeeper who drops a clanger. How should a player react to such a mistake?
Bernard Williams’s notion of agent-regret might help us to shine some light on the missed penalties and ruined chances.
Sometimes when a player messes up, it’s their fault: they did something that they really shouldn’t have done. Some were just showing off.
Think of all the failed “Panenka” penalties where a player tries to chip the goalkeeper (but sometimes they work out), Simone Zaza’s ridiculous run-up in Euro 2016, or Mario Balotelli’s infamous backheeled shot.
Others, so often goalkeepers, just weren’t paying enough attention. Then there are those players who just didn’t take care, or who didn’t practice enough beforehand.
Traditional ethical concepts can take us so far. We can say that these players should feel bad. They didn’t just fail to score or make the save—they also did something wrong in failing to take proper care.
This is where guilt might arise. Or they might feel ashamed, because they realise that they did not put their skills to proper use—or were more interested in looking good for the cameras than in pulling their weight.
But what about the conscientious penalty taker, or the goalkeeper who stumbles on a piece of misplaced turf (or gets concussed by Sergio Ramos)?
They did a bad thing—they missed a penalty, or they let in a goal—but they didn’t do anything wrong, and they didn’t exhibit any flaw. This is where agent-regret steps in.
What is agent-regret? Williams employs the example of a driver who kills a child. The driver isn’t a bad driver, he wasn’t drunk, and he wasn’t speeding. But he surely…