The scenario usually goes like this: Player A is accused of taking drugs by league officials. In response, Player A denies the accusation and vehemently defends his integrity before the sports media and general public. The league doesn’t back down and insists that they have proof that Player A used illegal drugs and threatens disciplinary action. Player A repeatedly claims his innocence. The league presents their evidence, including eyewitnesses who will testify that Player A is lying.
After a time of silence, Player A admits to using PEDs. His defense? He made a mistake.
So, how is knowingly taking illegal drugs a mistake? Was the bottle containing the drugs mislabeled? Did it say aspirin instead of human growth hormones? Did the athlete open his medicine cabinet in the dark and just take the pills without looking? Certainly that could have happened. But using drugs to increase or enhance one’s performance requires a certain regimen to follow. It generally isn’t a one-time event.
No, Player A knew full well what he was doing. He took the drugs knowing that what he was doing was illegal and against league policy. He didn’t make a mistake. His goal was to gain an edge over his opponents. It was intentional.
This isn’t just a matter of semantics. By using the word “mistake” in defense of intentionally doing something wrong, we deny responsibility for our actions.
A mistake is something that occurs unintentionally. If I’m driving my car and I want to take a right at the next corner but, instead, I make a left, that’s a mistake. If I’m baking a cake and put two cups of sugar into the mixing bowl instead of one, that’s a mistake. While composing this article I type an “s” instead of an “a,” that’s a mistake.
You hear the word “mistake” used many times to describe something that could have only been done intentionally. The one admitting infidelity to his spouse claims he made a mistake. The person who shoots and kills several people in a botched convenience store robbery will say upon his arrest that he made a mistake.
Didn’t the husband intentionally make a decision to cheat on his wife? Didn’t the man intentionally enter the store to rob it? When he fired his gun, didn’t he pull the trigger with intent?
If a certain action is determined to be a mistake, then the responsible party is not held to the same standard had the same action been committed intentionally. The legal system does not charge a person with first-degree murder for an action that resulted in an accidental death. While we may use the term mistake to describe an intentional act, don’t try using that defense in a court of law — it won’t work.
Let’s insist on correct terminology. Let’s not allow someone to call an intentional act a mistake.
Words have meanings. Words have weight. By substituting a lighter word to describe a serious action, we soften the gravity of the offense and lessen the accountability of the offender.
Yes, we all make mistakes. But, let’s agree — intentional actions are not mistakes.
The Rev. Ray Paget is pastor of Grand Haven Community Baptist Church.