Monday, January 20, 2014

Lay off Richard Sherman

Surely by now you’ve seen the video of Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks and his epic post game “rant.”  Immediately following a dramatic Sherman deflected-interception in the end zone to seal the victory and a trip to the Super Bowl for the Seahawks, Sherman was interviewed by Fox Sports reporter Erin Andrews.  It will be remembered as the best—or worst postgame interview of all time.  Watching the interview live, my initial response to the interview was to burst out laughing. Being that postgame interviews tend to consist of "Uh, I thank baby Jesus and cliché and cliché… Disney World!" as my friend @jalinton pointed out, I was certainly surprised and caught off guard by his response. 

The Seahawks and 49ers are fierce rivals and both excellent teams, so when San Francisco got the ball back with just a few minutes on the clock and started marching down the field, I had the feeling the game was going to end either by a last second touchdown or by Seattle’s defense making a huge play (perhaps a turnover) to end the game. Sure enough, a ball tipped up by Sherman and intercepted by linebacker Malcolm Smith on a throw to the end zone with only seconds on the clock, clinched the victory.  The players were pumped and the Seattle fans were going crazy—then seemingly everyone was shocked when Sherman spoke in the interview with the same passion and emotion with which he plays.

'Richard Sherman' photo (c) 2013, Mark Samia - license: for Sherman’s comments themselves, they’re hardly controversial.  When asked by Andrews about the play, Sherman responded by saying, “Well, I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get," Sherman shouted when asked by Andrews about the decisive play. "Don’t you ever talk about me.”  When asked who he was talking about, he responded that “Crabtree," he responded. "Don’t you open your mouth about the best, or I’ll shut it for you real quick. LOB!"

Here’s what you need to know.  Sherman’s statement about being the best—it’s true.  He was voted to the NFL All-Pro team, the best of the best. Further, Michael Crabtree, true to Sherman’s words, isn’t  a top 20 NFL wide receiver. Hall of Fame wide-out Chris Carter doesn’t have him in his top-10 for 2013, nor does he crack Yahoo Sports list of top-20 fantasy wide receivers.  Crabtree’s response on Twitter doesn’t hold water either; when a cornerback does his job so well the receiver he’s covering isn’t open, the QB isn’t going to throw the ball his way and therefore he won’t have any stats to show.

Trolls on Twitter and Facebook are reacting as if Sherman is some sort of thug.  While his reaction caught me off-guard, I can respect his passion and I understand it was in the moment. What bothers me is the entire backlash against Sherman (who has responded to his critics in well-written article—he  regularly writes for Sports Illustrated ), is the way his character and ‘class’ has been questioned.  Sherman has been labeled a “thug” and a “bad role model” because he said something passionate in the heat of the moment. 

All this backlash demonstrates the underlying racism still prevalent in America (fittingly, this event occurred on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend).  White America will accept anyone as long as they fit the mold of what white America expects.  Basically, you don’t have to be white—you just have to act white.  White America is cool with you, regardless of your skin-color, so long as you live in suburbia with the white picket fence and wear your khakis and golf polo-shirt. Break those norms and you’re in for a heap of trouble. 

'Angry Jim Harbaugh in High Resolution' photo (c) 2013, Adam Rifkin - license: all this ranting and raving about Richard Sherman, we’re forgetting the ridiculous sideline antics of Sherman’s old college coach at Stanford—now 49er’s leader— and white guy, Jim Harbaugh, who was constantly on camera yesterday for his endless hand-waving, jumping up and down, and exasperated looks he gave to the officials (conveniently, ESPN has a list of Harbaugh’s top 10 fits). Oh, and should you still have a problem with Sherman’s exuberant confidence, remember the quarterback who threw the pass, Colin Kaepernick, has a touchdown celebration in which he mimics kissing his own biceps.  So lay off white America.

This is important—just  because someone doesn’t act like you would act or behave like you would behave doesn’t mean they’re wrong or a bad person—it just means their different.  And this shaming for Richard Sherman for not “behaving appropriately” (behaving as white America expects one to) is basically closet racism.  This MLK day, I’m reminded that America still has so far to go before people are judged by the content of their character (however they choose to express it), not by the color of their skin, or whether they adhere to the cultural expectations of white America. 

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