Last weekend, football fans across America were given a treat! Two great games with the greatest players playing the sport competing to see who gets a shot to play in the Super Bowl! The first game, the AFC Championship Game, featured a duel between two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, media darlings, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. The Denver Broncos, lead by Manning would go on and defeat the New England Patriots anti-dramatically and get a shot to win the NFL Championship. The next game, the NFC Championship Game, between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, was much more hotly contested and featured an ending that won’t soon be forgotten fortunately… and unfortunately.
A back and forth game throughout, the Seattle Seahawks held a narrow six point lead with the 49ers driving down field looking for the go-ahead score. With less than 20-yards to go to the endzone, San Francisco quarterback, Colin Kaepernick takes a snap and throws the ball to the back corner of the endzone to his top receiver, Michael Crabtree. Just as Crabtree leaps in the air to make the catch, the ball was swatted from his grasp and tipped to a defender causing a crushing game-ending interception. The deflection was caused by All-Pro Stanford University graduate Richard Sherman.
When I watch the game live, I remember the excitement of the play. Whether you’re a fan of either team, you were on the edge of your seat look at that play and was left in disappointment or jubilation. In the rush of it all, Richard Sherman took an interview with Erin Andrews moments after the game saving play and spoke his mind about how he felt, his ability, team and thoughts on Michael Crabtree, whom he had a prior beef with. At the time I thought nothing of it. Erin Andrews does a million post-game interviews with players of all kinds of temperaments. Nothing special. Until I went to Facebook to read about excuses of upset 49er fans and instead, I see comments like, “I’m rooting for Denver NOW” and “Richard Sherman is a classless scumbag!”, “Disgrace!” and “Thug!”. Hearing this, I’m confused. I assumed that during his interview, which I paid little attention to, that he had used a slur or snarled at Erin Andrews or groped her, something to justify the vitriol I was reading across Facebook. Turns out it was none of that. I had to find and rewatch the interview online. I watched it again and again to see if I missed something or thinking that the video was edited deleting what he did or said. No. Richard Sherman was very aggravated, emotional after having made the play of the year, who wouldn’t be. He was also second from a victorious confrontation with a competitor he doesn’t like. So when he was interviewed, we got what we come to expect fresh after such competitions; true feelings in the heat of passion. Much like this:
Naturally, the guy being interviewed was called everything under the sun during his day. Now, the entire world readily recognizes him as “The Greatest”, not just himself. But in the aftermath of the NFC Championship game, everyone had an opinion to share about Richard Sherman. He’s suddenly become a villain, a classless, violent, thug completely unnatural to the sport he plays, much like Muhammad Ali. The New York Daily News had an article written, after the game was over, describing Sherman “bug-eyed” and screaming. Which was not only grossly negligent of the fact that his eyes were indeed shaded by the Championship hat he was wearing, but the writer immediately harkened back to a time where images of black minstrel caricatures were drawn with bulging eyes, shucking and jiving loudly senselessly. Now, it is very possibly that I could be reading too far into these words and characterizations of Richard Sherman. But when you look at the landscape of sports, the day before a hockey game, which is no stranger to senseless violent acts, senselessly starts(literally) with a brawl by all players on the ice. But Richard Sherman, a dual sport collegiate athlete and All-American is a thug… for making a good football play. A few years back, college football coach Mike Gundy had a press conference in response to an article that was written about a player he benched during a season. What ensued was three whole minutes of him yelling at and shaming the reporter who wrote the article. Mike Gundy goes on, wins conference titles and continues a successful coaching career, while Richard Sherman, who decided NOT to enter the NFL Draft to continue his education is a thug. Two years ago, the opposing coach from the NFC Championship Game and Richard Sherman’s former college football coach, Jim Harbaugh ends a game with the Detroit Lions by aggressively snatching the Lion’s coach’s hand in a post game handshake nearly igniting an all out brawl by both coaches and teams. Jim Harbaugh is passionate, while Richard Sherman, an well-spoken man with a college degree in Communications and pursuing a Masters Degree is a thug. Baseball managers like Billy Martin and Lou Piniella have made careers out of going onto the field of play and getting into screaming matches with umpires on a nightly basis. They’re know as some of baseball’s greatest managers, but Richard Sherman, a former Salutatorian and scholar-athlete is a thug. He’s a thug because he trash-talked another player? Something that literally happens in EVERY sport the moment an athlete step onto the field. Or is he a thug because he’s overly excited, energized because he’s LITERALLY at the pinnacle of his career? Or, as he and others speculate, is he a thug because it’s no longer politically correct to call him n—–? Maybe I’m over-reacting. Maybe I’m reading too much into this. What I’m not reading too much into is Richard Sherman’s Twitter Feed.
Refreshing little gems of commentary to read the day after the biggest day of his career thus far; i.e. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY. But hey, these are just some isolated little idiots and not reflective of our general society as a whole right? Sure.
It’s a shame though. Yeah, some things could just be me over-thinking things in my head. Some things could be me seeing this as they shouldn’t be. Sadly though, there are other things, we seem to not be able to get past. It has stayed with us and hasn’t allowed us to live as one. We’ve come a long way in America. Sports, which has often been vilified as an amateurish unadult way for the under-educated and overly capitalistic to make a lot of cash. But it also has been seen as the ultimate meritocracy, where your own merits and ability, not your race or status, determines how much you achieve. Sports have been famous for uniting us under banners of common support despite our inherent differences. But through it all, as much as we would like, not all of it can be left out of the proverbial locker room. As much as I would rather it not, race is still as big of a number one player in “America’s Game” as it was 50 years ago. Unfortunately, we’ve come a long way, but we still struggle to leave these silly little kids games where they belong: in the past!