A week ago, Richard Sherman, a corner for the Seattle Seahawks, gave what is now an infamous post-game interview. After blocking a pass intended for the 49er’s Michael Crabtree, the game ended and with the Seahawks going to the Super Bowl. Moments later, Sherman said:
I’m the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that is the result you are going to get. Don’t you ever talk about me. […] Crabtree. Don’t you open your mouth about the best, or I’m going to shut it for you really quick.
In the history of group sports, neither a player nor fan has ever, ever, spoken out in celebration while simultaneously jabbing their opponent. Except we all understand that the above statement is untrue. So why is Richard Sherman’s statement different?
In American society, we have allocated two acceptable roles for men of color: celebrity or criminal. As a nation we applaud Tiger Woods as an athlete; Tyler Perry for his movie empire; Jay-Z for his music and recording empire, entrepreneurship, and investment. We, as a nation, do not know of, or care for, the stories of the CEO’s of American Express, TIAA-CREF, Darden Restaurants, and McDonald’s, all of whom are men of color. Rather, we continue to embrace and further the dichotomy of good/bad black male. Richard Sherman brought this to fore, and it’s time America deal with it.
Immediately after the on-air interview, the internet was ablaze. Sherman was a “thug.” News outlets were enthralled with this unacceptble behavior. In fact, on Monday, January 20, 2014, the word “thug” was used 625 times. More than any other day in the past three years. More than the time Secretary of State John Kerry called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a “thug.” What did all of these people mean? Simply, they meant that Richard Sherman was an angry black man speaking out of turn.
When asked about it, Sherman said:
To those who would call me a thug or worse because I show passion on a football field—don’t judge a person’s character by what they do between the lines. Judge a man by what he does off the field, what he does for his community, what he does for his family.
Sherman is correct, but our society doesn’t have a space for that. The mold that was once made for men of color has not changes, but rather shifted to fit modern society. The celebrity/criminal dichotomy leaves no room for the millions of men that are neither, or for men like Sherman, who is a Stanford University graduate and world class athlete. Worse, the dichotomy is embraced at all levels of society. On the upcoming Super Bowl, Senator John McCain said, “I think Denver [will win]. You know, everybody is such a [Peyton] Manning fan and that loudmouth from Seattle sort of epitomizes the Seattle team to me, but I’m sure I’m going to get in trouble for that one, too.” (Emphasis mine). You betcha, Senator McCain! Which furthers my point. You knew what you were saying was racist and inappropriate, yet you said it. Because in America, that is accepted.
Not by me. Not by millions of people. I hope that Seattle goes on to win the Super Bowl, not because I am a Patriots fan, but because America needs to see and accept an educated man of color stand up for himself and his team. America needs to see and accept men of color as more than celebrity/athletes or criminals. I hope that Richard Sherman’s interview and Super Bowl appearance will create a space for Americans to think through the racist, knee-jerk reactions by so many. The sad truth is that had it been Tom Brady acting poorly, this “controversy” would never exist. Let’s come together and learn something from this. Let’s pave a different path for our future and the future of America.