Tuesday, December 29, 2020



We were all in the backyard, goofing around with my two year old granddaughter ("Frog"), playing an improvisational version of "Follow the Leader" - can you do this, Frog? Here, try this! A bunch of silly adults, a beautiful day, and one very willing imitator. It brings great joy to watch her move, to see her try her very best to share in our physical movements - and it's even a lot of giggles to reverse roles and simply imitate her (see James Corden and Justin Bieber here for laughs like this).  Uncle pulls a new move - running backwards quickly, and we watch Frog immediately take the new and unusual dare. 

No inhibition! No hesitation! Just go, just try.

How might I be more like my granddaughter?

I said to Uncle, "wow, she's moving just like a cornerback - that takes skill!" Truly, I wish you could have seen my son's face. Ha! Makes me laugh as I write. He was totally stunned that I had thrown out this football position and used the term correctly. He said, "Whaaaaat?!" and stopped in his tracks. I am totally ignorant about football, and this man has followed it passionately since he was young...from time to time, he has tried to explain various aspects of the game to me, as have my father, my brothers, my husband, my friends, on and on. I think to learn there must be a kernel of curiosity, an appetite whet. For me football on the television always means I can slink away and read or write; I have zero interest in the game.

So where did this sudden enlightenment come from? NPR, of course! I listened to a recent Ask Me Another with guest Nnamdi Asomugha. This game show is always an entertaining listen, and this episode was particularly so, because I could really relate. The host Ophira Eisenberg introduced Nnamdi Asomugha, sharing that he is an actor and former football player - a cornerback...I can't remember the specifics of her introduction, but I remember that the more details she provided about his football career, the more stilted, distant, and dry her voice became; the more clear it was that she was unfamiliar with the sport; and the more obvious it was that she was simply reading aloud from notes. Mr. Asomugha called her bluff on this, and they both laughed at how right he was - she did not know or understand football. Then, savvy radio host that she is, Ms. Eisenberg challenged him to explain what a cornerback is in layperson's terms. 

Oh that's impossible, I thought, there's no way to explain this. 

Unusual for me, I listened in. Perhaps because I was trapped in my car, driving, alone, rather than at home and able to flee to another refuge apart from football.

Mr. Asomugha patiently and deftly explained ... well, here's my version -

  • He asked her if she knew what a quarterback was. (yes, sort of!)
  • He noted that the quarterback throws the ball to another player who hopefully catches it (and I think is called the receiver) (yes! I was still following, more or less)
  • He said his role as cornerback is to stop that second guy from catching the ball - and to do this, he has to predict this player's movements and basically run backwards quickly to stop him. He described this position as cornerback "as one of the most difficult positions in all of sports to play."

Where am I going with all this? Well, a new year's resolution, of course!

This is the closest I've ever come to understanding anything about football and here I am using it as a metaphor for how we need to change the world.

It dawns on me that social justice advocacy is like being a cornerback. This frightening year - 2020 - has shown the importance of being knowledgeable and predictive about what oppositional moves are being plotted...in what ways are our systems, our laws, our country being intentionally changed and manipulated? To what purpose? What do I need to study more closely? Who is being left out, hurt, disenfranchised, who benefits? What intentional evil is being planned? How do I learn more about what is happening in our democracy? What has happened throughout history and how does this continue now? What are the patterns of white supremacy and inequality? In what ways am I complicit? How do I keep alert and fight for justice for all?

I must
we must
move with knowledge and understanding, 
purpose, skill, speed 
unpredictably and yet focused
eyes on - ALWAYS ON - these opponents
to stop them cold
to undo their plans
and create the outcome
of our dreams.

Yes, I wrote this slice like a cornerback: moving backwards, with purpose! Ha! Hope you enjoyed this playful writing...I had good things in mind.

Happy new year, all! 

Thanks for reading.

"You can't understand the most important things from a distance. You have to get close."
                 Bryan Stevenson, sharing his grandmother's wisdom.


I wrote this post for Slice of Life.  All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, on Tuesdays. Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!


  1. I love sports metaphors much more than I like sports, and I grew up learning about football and reading biographies about famous players, so I very much enjoyed this post. As I read I thought your ideas would make a good poem, and then you offered a clever one. I don’t know if you saw the WSJ article vilifying DisruptTexts, but your analysis of progress fits that scenario perfectly. Teachers challenging the norms must constantly prepare for the onslaught.

  2. I adore the way that you wove this slice together which started from watching Frog's movements to NPR to the year 2020 and how it all ended with your poem.

    We have so much to move on in the years ahead. If we act with purpose, then I think we can all make a difference in our corners of the world.

  3. I love all of this post - esp the poem!
    Thank you

  4. Oh, Maureen, what a great post. I love your style of writing and communicating. You clearly explain these sweet slices of life in your yard, the joy of Frog's movements, the joy of surprising your son with the cornerback comparison. And then to make a life lesson out of it all is so appropriate and powerful. I am taking away the cornerback image for 2021. I want to be with you in this advocacy for social justice. Thank you.