I tried. I really tried. Since last night I’ve tried to not engage in the discussion of Richard Sherman’s behavior and comments at the end of the game. I was disappointed in his actions. Then I started reading commentary on Twitter and the nonsense wouldn’t stop. I’m hopeful that this was mostly smart people commenting and responding to comments after too many adult beverages. Then this morning more nonsensical, short sighted “analysis” kept popping up. Then I read this piece defending Sherman and dismissing his critics. We need to think more complexly about many things and avoid the kind of either/or binary thinking that comes so easy in our self-righteousness and efforts to prove how smart we are by taking others down. The five myths and five facts may seem like they are about Sherman but they are mostly about the the criticism of him and the criticism of those critics. There is also a sixth fact about me.
Fact #1 Richard Sherman made a great play. He made a victory sealing, loss preventing, take my team to the Super Bowl play. Great play.
Myth #1 “He was just being loud and emotional.”
If only. After making this play and sealing the victory, he chased down the wide receiver, Michael Crabtree, who was walking away to slap him on his butt and yelled in his face something and then put his hands down clearly hoping to provoke a reaction and draw a penalty. Crabtree pushed Sherman’s face away and the officials called the penalty on Sherman anyway. Sherman then chased down one of the opponents offensive linemen and made a two handed choking gesture six inches from his face. Then in the post-game interviews he called Crabtree a “sorry receiver” and “mediocre at best.” This behavior is classless.
Fact #2 Race is at play in the analysis of this.
Words like “thug” and “ghetto” are coded racist terms. Honestly, they are not even really coded. I’ve not seen anyone use the terms “thug” or “ghetto,” although I am sure some have. [UDPATE here is a link to a series of awfully racist Tweets and a piece by Dave Zirin on race bating] We live in a racist society. Just because some criticism of Sherman is grounded in a racist context, that doesn’t nullify any and all criticism. For White people like me, that means not being silent out of fear of displaying our own racism. Race is clearly at play in my own analysis of Sherman. I’m trying to be aware of how it is at play as best as I can, AND I am sure it is at play in ways that I am not aware. I’d love other’s thoughts on how this might be playing out.
Myth # 2 “Seattle is classless.”
Many Seattle players and coaches behaved in an exemplary manner in victory. Sherman’s behavior doesn’t define the character of an entire team or an entire city. Similarly, John Harbaugh’s boorish behavior in this game and in others doesn’t define the entire 49ers team or the city of San Francisco.
Fact #3 “Trash talk is part of the game.”
But that’s not what we are talking about here. It is one thing to talk trash back and forth during the game. It is an entirely different thing to try and provoke your opponent after you have sealed a win. It is also entirely different to call your opponent “sorry” and “mediocre at best” in victory. It is entirely different to chase people down and make choking gestures 6 inches from their face after they have just lost the game.
Myth #3 “We want athletes to be authentic but when they are we crush them.”
This is a favorite among sportswriters. It’s true that athletes who say exactly what is on their mind make sportswriters jobs easier, especially if it is controversial or provocative. This does not mean that we need to affirm and excuse any comments. It also doesn’t mean that criticism is out of bounds. Sherman has a constitutional right to say what he said. Others have a constitutional right to criticize. Also, I believe that the genuine and authentic Richard Sherman has more to him than this. [UPDATE Richard Sherman seems to think so too]
Fact #4 Football is violent.
A player did obviously shatter his knee in this game. Other players were clearly concussed and several players will have life long repercussions as a result of the violence in this single 60 minute game. This deserves critique and analysis. Chris Klewe pointed this out via Twitter during the game and the response shows just how unwilling we are to examine this violence for the entertainment of millions and profit for a small few and it’s impact on players for the rest of their lives. AND this fact does not justify any and all behavior.
Myth 4 “It is just a game.”
Nope. Nope. Nope. When my friends get together and play football in the local park, that is just a game. This is a nationally televised event with tremendous influence on our culture (and not just children). We may wish the actions and comments of professional athletes didn’t influence our culture, but they do. Some of them may not want nor deserve to be role models, but they are. Sport is a powerful influencer in our culture, whether we like it or not. Sport has the ability to bring us together and divide us. Sport has the power to foster social change or move us backward. There is nothing magically good or bad about sport but their is good AND bad in sport and it’s influence on our culture.
Myth #5 “Sherman went to Stanford so he is smarter than you.”
I have no worldly idea how smart or not smart Sherman is. But to say that he went to and graduated from Stanford and that this mere fact is an accurate arbiter of intelligence is academic elitism.
Fact #5 This has nothing to do with Sherman’s intelligence.
He may indeed by incredibly intelligent and perhaps even thoughtful and compassionate. That doesn’t make him immune from responsibility for how he responded in victory in this incidence.
Bonus Fact #6 I’m disappointed in me.
I’m disappointed that on the day we celebrate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and influence on this country and the world, that I have spent so much time reflecting on this. I’m also mindful that on this day I, as a White person spent so much time reflecting on the criticism of a Black man and the criticism of his critics. I’ll try and do better.