Thursday, January 23, 2014

Richard Sherman, Race and Class In The NFL

Where's the fainting couch?  American football fans, after witnessing 60 minutes of cringe-worthy brutality replete with bone-jarring, brain-rattling hits and gruesome injuries, are shocked, offended, and outraged that a football player -- an African American football player -- who makes a remarkable game-winning play and has a microphone stuck in his face, departed from the usual script of praising God and crediting his fellow teammates, and engaged in a little adrenaline-induced trash talk. 

As Isaac Saul wrote, in a particularly insightful Huffington Post piece, "could you imagine if this generation had to deal with Muhammad Ali?"

Race, as always, plays an outsized role in the reaction to Seahawk defense back Richard Sherman's post-game exclamation that "I'm the best corner[back] in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you going to get."
Sherman was called arrogant, classless (classless in football?), thuggish, and so much worse.

Travis Waldron points out that "the day after the interview, the word 'thug' was used some 625 times on television, more than it had been used on any single day in the past three years, according to a Deadspin analysis. And most of it was used with the same connotation that racist terms like the n-word would have been used once. Sherman is too loud. Too boisterous. Too…black."

As Ta-Nahisi Coates said, "there's some weird notion in our society that holds that trash-talking is for the classless and stupid. I don't know what it means to be 'classless' in an organization like the NFL. And then there is the racism from onlookers, who are incapable of perceiving in Sherman an individual, and instead see the sum of all American fears—monkey, thug, terrorist, nigger."

Richard Sherman grew up in Compton, finished second in his high school class and then graduated from Stanford with a 3.9 GPA, before becoming the best defensive back in the game.  Oh, and he started his own non-profit, Blanket Coverage, whose mission "is to level the playing field for children enrolled in grades K-12 who have a strong combination of potential, goals and a desire to make the most of their education."

As Saul put it:  "This is a guy who represents one of the best kinds of sports stories there is in the world: the rise from the bottom, the profound destruction of obstacles, the honest success story built by a foundation of hard work and loving parents. If anyone with a brain took the time to learn about Richard Sherman, and then put him in the context of the rest of the National Football League, he'd be a pretty hard guy to bash."

Saul notes that 31 NFL players were arrested last off season for everything from gun charges and driving under the Influence to murder. The NFL, where recently at least one team paid bounties to players who caused injuries to opposing players.  But it is Richard Sherman's post-game reaction that offends our sensibilities. 

What Sherman taught us, Isaac Saul writes, "is that we're still a country that isn't ready for lower-class Americans from neighborhoods like Compton to succeed. We're still a country that can't decipher a person's character. But most of all, he taught us that no matter what you overcome in your life, we're still a country that can't accept someone if they're a little louder, a little prouder, or a little different from the people we surround ourselves with."

Not to mention that Richard Sherman is a proud Black man.

 Unfortunately, Greg Howard is right:
Too many of us think that one ecstatic, triumphant black man showing honest, human emotion just seconds after making a play that very well could be written into the first appositive of his obituary, is not only offensive, but is also representative of the tens of millions of blacks in this country. And in two weeks time, in the year 2014, too many of us will be rooting for the Denver Broncos for no other reason than to knock Richard Sherman down a few notches, if only to put him back in his place.
 Go Seahawks!


Farnaz Fatemi said...

I read Saul's piece this morning and then spent the 3+ minutes basking in the YouTube compilation of Muhammad Ali's fighting-words. Thanks for this. You're making me rethink my Manning loyalty.

Jimmy Lohman said...

Your blog is totally awesome, Andy. Just discovered it thanks to this Facebook posting. I appreciate your defense of Sherman though I had the typical reaction to his rant. Yes, his outburst pales relative to the violence that is central to our contemporary gladiator hysteria. (My non-violent father used to yell "kill him" when a Giant sack was imminent.) What bugged me was not the vehemence or volume, it was the gratuitous attack on an opposing player and the over-the-top braggadocio. I would distinguish Ali's bragging rights from the narcissism of someone in a team sport, however superlative the player may be. Yes, the frequent victor's nod to God is obviously idiotic (no way God was EVER a Cowboy, Yankee or Gator fan), but it is reasonable to expect graciousness in winning and to appreciate the humility of the hackneyed "it was not me it was the team" refrain more than chest pounding.

Lovechilde said...

Thanks, Jimmy. I essentially agree with you, and if the commentary was limited to Sherman's lack of sportsmanship and the like I would have nothing to say. It is the intensity of the reaction to his post-game reaction that struck me. (And our fathers must have watched the Giants together, as my dad used to yell the same thing)

Jimmy Lohman said...

And, of course, we can never underestimate the irresistible magnetism of racism in this country given the slightest opportunity.

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