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Football and Social Change

David Cowles

Sep 20, 2022

“…You feel your body sliding between other bodies, not under them; you look up and OMG, it’s Morning in America, daylight after all.”

In Issue #2 of Aletheia Today Magazine (ATM), we looked at football as an enterprise, and, more broadly, as a metaphor for life itself. Hopefully, we were able to contribute some concrete ideas on how to coach a successful team, how to succeed as a player, and how to lead a successful life once it’s time to hang up those cleats for good. (When is that, Tom Brady?)

Building on that theme, this edition of Thoughts While Shaving (TWS) asks, “How is working for social change like playing fullback on a football team?” R U ready!?

The quarterback hands you the ball…and now you’re staring at maybe eight different colored shirts, supported by 16 cleated legs. True, some of those legs are pushing your way but still, it’s a congealed mass: No Daylight, No Joy!

But you do your thing. Coach designs the plays, QB calls them (on this team), you execute them. You don’t get ‘paid’ to second guess (actually, you don’t get paid at all, unless you’ve already made it to the NFL…or are violating NCAA rules).

Still, it takes all your strength and courage to smash your body at top speed and with maximum force into a 1,500 lb. scrum. Yet you do it!

Why? There is no chance of gaining any yardage, and you’re risking a fumble or, even worse, an injury. Why not just take a knee? Doesn’t that make more sense?

It might, but that doesn’t matter, you’re not doing it. Why not? Duty to your teammates? Faith in your coaches? Both, but more than either, Hope.

Take a knee, avoid disaster, but lose all hope of any gain, or smash into the scrum, risk mishap, but maintain a sliver of possibility. So, you crash, ball clutched, legs churning, and guess what?

Loss of a yard! Fourth down!

Ok then, so what did you accomplish? Absolutely nothing, right? Well, in terms of field position, ‘absolutely nothing’ would be putting it generously. More accurately, you lost a yard and wasted a down. Still you accomplished something.

Your self-sacrifice actually accomplished a lot:

  • You demonstrated your Love for your teammates. They can count on you, you did your duty. Solidarity!

  • You demonstrated your Faith in your coaches and your quarterback.

Plus, you made your team smarter! When you succumbed to the scrum, you created information, data. Your coaches could see what went wrong; they can make adjustments.

And you planted that same information in the other team’s psyche: “We smoked ‘em; they won’t try that play again. We better be on the lookout for some sort of sweep or maybe a pass.” Whatever. You can’t control how another team reacts to your data, but you can put the data out there and hope they misread or misuse it.

Information and disinformation. If it’s not Love that makes the world go ‘round then surely it’s info/disfo: it’s the currency of grade school squabbles, middle school gossip, political campaigns, international relations and, oh yeah, war.

Fourth down: The coach is sending in a new play. He’s a ‘boomer,’ and now we see he’s a fan of The Who to boot. So, guess what?! “Meet the new play…same as the old play!”

That’s right, same play (with a minor tweak to the blocking scheme). The Gods Must Be Crazy (or at least the coaches). Isn’t this exactly the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome?

But, of course, you’ll do your duty. Again, you smash the scrum, but this time you feel your body sliding between other bodies, not under them; you look up and OMG, it’s Morning in America, daylight after all.

What does this have to do with the struggle for social change? Well, take a look (regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum):

  • The Conservative movement after Goldwater (1964)

  • The Civil Rights movement after the Martin Luther King (1968)

  • The Gay Rights movement after Stonewall (1969)

  • The Anti-War movement after McGovern (1972)

  • The Right to Life movement after Roe (1973)

  • Nicaragua after the Contras (1990)

I could go on. In each case, dogged perseverance paid off…big time! Causes that everyone had written off as hopeless suddenly, Phoenix like, rose victorious.

That’s how social change happens. Against all odds, Faith, Hope, and Love (Duty) can carve out a sliver of daylight (possibility). That’s how to play fullback…and perhaps it’s also how to change the world.


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