This is the news headline I see on Fox News.

Tom Fitton: Kavanaugh-Ford hearing didn't advance the ball

What is the original meaning of "advance the ball" in sports? And what is its analogic meaning in this Kavanaugh-Ford hearing news?

3 Answers 3


In many ball sports, the aim of the game is to get the ball past your opponents and into a "goal" of some kind. For example in (American) football, the aim is to carry the ball forward into the opponents "end zone". In each play, the team attempts to advance the ball as far as possible.

Metaphorically then, "advance the ball" means "make progress towards some ultimate goal", in the specific example, it means that the hearing didn't change the opinions of people, neither for or against Kavanaugh.

  • 1
    In any kind of football......There is no kind of football (even if you call it soccer) or American football or footie (Aussia rules) or rugb etc. is the aim other than to advance the ball.....
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 19:47
  • @Lambie, well the aim is to score goals, advancing the ball is making progress towards that aim. In this case the metaphor refers to American football, where making specific advances is part of the core gameplay.
    – James K
    Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 19:49
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    Since this news is American news and the person who used the analogy is an American. I agree with James. I believe the metaphor refers to American football. Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 20:02
  • @MichaelLiu - Perhaps the metaphor was being used without much thought about any one particular sport. Sports metaphors are common in English – some more obviously tied to one particular sport than others (knocked it out of the park and out in left field are from baseball, e.g.). Yet phrases like dropped the ball could apply to baseball or American football. In any case, many of these phrases become so entrenched in the language that we can grasp the intended meaning without even giving much thought to the phrase's athletic roots.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 20:40

In American football, the goal is to advance down the field with the ball to score a touchdown. However, on some plays you can't advance and get stopped by the defense. Listening to the rest of Fitton's sentence, the analogy he's making is that the Democrats would "score a touchdown" by getting Kavanaugh's nomination to fail, but the hearing did nothing to bolster support for that, so they're stuck in place.

  • Agreed. The context is important -- Fox News is generally conservative and supports the Republican party, so we can assume he's saying the hearings failed to move toward some aim of the Democratic party.
    – Andrew
    Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 20:29

Advance the ball here means: determine who is telling the truth: Kavanaugh or Ford. One of them is lying.

Truth being the goal.

The aim of the hearing with them was to see if one could find out who is telling the truth: Him or her.

In any kind of football, one seeks to advance the ball. Get ahead of the other team so one can score.

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