We Are Not Your Grandparents’ Minorities: The Richard Sherman Debate, By Lyle JacobsTweet
Richard Sherman is a cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks. He is a damn good one at that. He is paid to play professional football and to play it well. He is paid to shut down the top athletes in all of sports each and every Sunday and to make big plays, just like the one he made Sunday night against Michael Crabtree and the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game. Richard Sherman isn’t getting paid to give flawless postgame interviews or be a humble, gracious winner. So why, over the past 24 hours, has Richard Sherman been the hottest topic in sports? Simple: because Richard Sherman is a black professional athlete who refused to conform to the role of the obedient negro that white America expects a black professional athlete to play.
The moment Richard Sherman ran up to Crabtree and mockingly offered a fist pound didn’t start this whole uproar. It didn’t start when he flashed the “choking” sign at the 49ers bench either. Hell, it didn’t even start when he called Crabtree a “sorry receiver” to Erin Andrews. This whole uproar started the moment everyone saw a minority man show raw and untethered emotion on a national stage. The image of a big black man angrily screaming over a blonde and petite white woman was more than enough for America to deem Sherman a classless thug. Never mind the fact that he overcame a gang infested neighborhood and violent environment to earn a degree at one of the premier institutions of higher learning in all of the world. No, all people needed to see was a black athlete blow up in all the wrong ways and show all the wrong types of emotion for them to label him “an ignorant ape” or “a dumb nigger” on Twitter.
Is Richard Sherman acting like a thug in this video? What about a monkey? Asshole? Cocky nigger? Or is Richard Sherman acting like a guy who just made the biggest play of his career to reach the biggest stage his livelihood offers and was high off of emotion after battling a rival who was obviously talking trash throughout the game? In the whitest of all sports, hockey, when a guy violently attacks another he isn’t labeled a thug, he is labeled a perfect teammate. What if someone like Tom Brady gave an interview like this? Would he be a classless, cocky thug? Of course not. Tom Brady would probably be called “emotional,” “fiery,” and “inspirational” after an interview like this. Man, that guy has a desire to win. What a competitor! Look at the fire in his eyes, the passion in his speech! A million different variations of that bullshit would be spewed by all the racially biased internet trolls and commentators in the mainstream. But because Richard Sherman is a black professional athlete, a minority, not a white man, who showed some personality and got “cocky” on national television, he is labeled a thug.
Look at Johnny Manziel, America’s new favorite “bad boy”, “outlaw”, “inspirational leader” doesn’t-play-by-the-rules athlete. When Manziel shows cockiness on the field, like he did when he taunted the Rice Owls, armchair quarterbacks like Skip Bayless call it “no big deal” and that we shouldn’t concentrate on the taunting because it takes away from how special the kid is. However, according to Bayless, Sherman is “taking away the focus from his play” by “not letting his numbers do the talking.” What’s the difference? Mostly Race, assumed allocated socio-economic class, and allocated place in society. In both cases we’ve got guys trash-talking opponents. Hell, at least Sherman’s doing it against grown men who get paid to play the game, not a bunch of 18 and 19 year olds on an overmatched Rice Owls team. But of course Manziel isn’t black and thus doesn’t have to play to the zero-personality, be-perfect-or-else role that the minority male athlete so often has to fulfill.
Bayless pretty much sums up every armchair analyst watching football on Sundays: a middle-aged, out-of-shape, never-made-it-past-high-school-athletics man screaming at anyone who will listen just how much he knows about the game. The same guys who are so quick to jump on their’ computers to bitch to anyone who will listen about what a smug thug that Sherman is. These same guys who cheer so passionately for their Andy Roddicks or Johnny Manziels or Larry Birds but won’t hesitate to label Sherman “a cocky nigger” the minute he breaks from the norm.
Too often minority men in all aspects of life are ostracized for not fulfilling their assigned role in society. The moment one refuses to play the subservient, obedient, white-washed, “masta please” role they are a thug, classless, and an embarrassment. Richard Sherman broke that role and told society that minority males are no longer allocated to the back page by playing the role you want us to play. We are stepping out of your glass box with our talents, educations, and communities behind us. The days of you telling us how we are supposed to act is over. Thank you Richard Sherman, for smashing that glass box that kept us in the back of the bus for so long.
*This column was written with contributions from Brandon Ecoffey.
*Lyle Jacobs is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and a lifelong resident of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He is a graduate of Red Cloud High school and a current student at Duke University in Durham, NC majoring in Journalism and Communications.
*Brandon Ecoffey is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the managing editor at Native Sun News, Life and Current Events editor at Native-Max magazine and contributor to LastRealIndians.com. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH where he majored in Government and Native American Studies.