Toward the end of the NFC Championship game, cornerback Richard Sherman was responsible for the defensive play that sealed the Seattle Seahawks’ victory over the San Francisco 49ers. His postgame remarks generated controversy and instantly transformed him into arguably the most recognized athlete in the NFL outside of Brady and Manning. Now, as the Super Bowl looms on the horizon, America has had plenty of opportunity to reflect on those remarks, which have sparked far more interest and garnered way more press than the play itself. We’ve also had an opportunity to learn a lot more about Richard Sherman, the man; as a result, many of us, including yours truly, have reversed course from our initial reactions.
Even before I heard the postgame interview with FOX Sports reporter Erin Andrews as it occurred live, I was livid as Sherman got in the face of 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree, even tauntingly putting hands on him and appearing to make a choking sign. To me, there’s just something about seeing someone taunt another person physically like that. My attitude is “don’t you ever put your hands on me,” and something about witnessing it happen to someone else evokes the same emotional response. I had been pulling for the Seahawks to win all game, and I still wanted to fight Richard Sherman when he got in Crabtree’s mug, and this is before he uttered a single word in the mic. Anyone with a competitive nature who grew up in an environment of being constantly tested will immediately understand this.
Then came the infamous interview with Erin Andrews.
My initial reaction was that his remarks were a display of poor sportsmanship. In hindsight, I am man enough to admit that I was suffering from PICFSD – Post In-Crabtree’s-Face Stress Disorder. In the moment, I felt it added insult to injury that Sherman publicly referred to Crabtree as a “sorry receiver”, especially after the Championship game came down to the wire and Crabtree already had to go home licking his wounds. It seemed like Sherman just poured salt on them unnecessarily. As I calmed down from my own adrenaline rush, however, I realized that Sherman was simply speaking out of his. If I was in the moment, imagine how Sherman must have felt. He just made the biggest play of the second biggest game of the NFL season, and in doing so he sent his team to the biggest game of the NFL season and possibly a significant place in football history. Anyone who has ever played any sport has to acknowledge that a little trash talk was in order given the magnitude of the moment.
Despite my initial reaction to Sherman’s remarks, what I never, ever agreed with was the way he was characterized by many in the media as a “thug”, “hoodlum”, etc. I think those characterizations are based on looks and stereotypes alone. I agree with those who have said that such words have become the modern day, socially acceptable version of the N-word. “N-word” itself is White people language for the uglier, now politically incorrect “nigger.” Yes, I said it. Nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger. I can say that word, so culture and society have determined based on the color of my skin. It seems that an increasing number of those who can’t say it, especially in the media, are bent on finding another way of castigating every Black make who doesn’t kowtow and grin, and dares express any emotion or emphasis that doesn’t come forth in hushed, measured tones.
By now his 4.2 GPA, his class ranking, his Stanford education, his squeaky clean record, his remarkable triumph over the Compton surroundings in which he grew up, and his history of community service and upstanding citizenship off the field have been widely touted. That’s old news now. The fact is, however, that a man shouldn’t need to have such accomplishments in order not to be labeled a thug, whether he sports tats and dreadlocks or not. I certainly cannot boast Richard Sherman’s credentials, but I am nobody’s thug. Considering his accolades and achievements, I admire Richard Sherman’s outspokenness and refusal to conform to a false image just to appear non-threatening to people he has never threatened.
Still, don’t you ever in life put your hands on me, and if I was Michael Crabtree, I would have done my best to try to kick Sherman’s ass into next week. And on Sunday, I’ll be pulling for Peyton Manning and Co. to do exactly that. If the Seahawks prevail over the Broncos in the Super Bowl, I’ll be personally disappointed in the outcome of the game.
But I’ll be proud as a Black man for the vindication of Richard Sherman. And as I celebrate, I’ll probably talk a little trash.
Brian C. Scott