I’ve never applied eye black before tackling a manuscript. My reading glasses, I’ll readily admit, don’t even come close to saying badass the way that eye black does. Still, with the kickoff of the NFL season scant hours away, it occurs to me that there’s a position on the gridiron not all too dissimilar to that of copy editor: the cornerback.

Strange, you might think (or passing strange), to compare a position held by one of the world’s finest athletes to the role of copy editor, but there’s one obvious link: a copy editor, like a cornerback, can only screw up. We can only get burned.

If a copy editor does his or her job correctly, no one notices. By the same token, if a cornerback shuts down a receiver, the ball doesn’t get thrown to that side of the field, and the corner and receiver might as well be invisible. It’s only when the receiver slips behind the defense and hauls in a big gain that the now-hapless-looking corner gets his name called. Any editor who’s missed something (and all editors miss from time to time) knows that feeling of getting schooled. (Thankfully, our moments of shame aren’t broadcast on national television.)

Like a corner who’s just bitten on a really good fake, all we can do is shake it off, try to learn something from the experience, and remind ourselves that we’re damned good at what we do. What just happened won’t happen again. Not on my watch.

I don’t want to completely discount our moments of glory, either. Snagging an interception and taking it to the house is a surefire way to bring a crowd (happily spilling beer and overpriced concessions) to its feet. Copy editors enjoy their own time in the limelight, even if pointing out a dangling participle isn’t likely to make any sports channel’s top-ten plays of the day.

These moments, however, are few and far between. Our lot is to toil in obscurity, the garbage men of publishing, cleaning up unsightly errors while the rest of the world sleeps.

I enjoy my work. I think it a noble profession. I like leaving a manuscript in better shape than I found it.

I’m happy to play my position.

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