by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
White NFL fans blow hot and cold when it comes to their feelings about Black players. Idolatry turned quickly to hate when Richard Sherman forgot his “place.” The psycho-fanatic twitter mob “called Sherman a nigger, a thug, a gorilla, and a porch monkey who ought to be lynched.”
Freedom Rider: Richard Sherman and America’s Sickness
by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
“Black sports heroes may be idolized, but they are still black and are reminded as such.”
America is a nation addicted to racism and to the denial of many horrible realities. The result is a population living in fantasy and reveling in trivialities. These tendencies sometimes merge into a firestorm of controversies which while irrelevant may also say a lot about the terrible state of the American consciousness.
The latest such incident came about because of a football game. The National Football League is the most popular of all professional sports in this country and 66% of its players are African American. These factoids bring out the schizophrenia inherent in a racist society. Black sports heroes may be idolized, but they are still black and are reminded as such if they stray too far from the bounds of behavior considered acceptable by white people.
Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks is the latest example of the admired black man who gets less love when he doesn’t behave as he is told he should. Sherman played a key role in a game winning play in the NFC championship game against the San Francisco 49ers. When white, blonde reporter Erin Andrews approached Sherman after the game and asked about what transpired, Sherman responded with great intensity and words which are thought but rarely spoken.
“Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks is the latest example of the admired black man who gets less love when he doesn’t behave as he is told.”
“Let me ask you about that play. Take me through it.”
“Well I’m the best corner [back] in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like [Michael] Crabtree that’s the result you’re going to get. Don’t you ever talk about me!”
“Who was talking about you?”
“Crabtree. Don’t you open your mouth about the best. Or I’ll shut it for you real quick. LO.B.!” (Legion Of Boom is the Seahawks defense.)
“And… well… Joe back over to you.”
Sherman skipped the clichés and said what was on the mind of a competitive and aggressive man who just helped win a big game. It was not what most people would say on live television but that should hardly be newsworthy.
Of course what logically shouldn’t be an issue became a national contretemps. Social media lit up as if something serious had happened on the planet and a drugged and deadened populace awakened with as much excitement as Sherman displayed on the air. White people were predictably horrified that the black man yelled in the vicinity of a white woman. It is obvious from the video that he didn’t yell at her, he merely responded to her question while looking straight into the camera. Andrews seemed slightly taken aback but didn’t clutch her pearls and faint because a black man raised his voice.
“Some were embarrassed about the athlete’s interview and accused Sherman of being clownish, coonish, minstrel-like, ghetto, and ungracious in victory.”
You wouldn’t know that from the twitter rages of white America who called Sherman a nigger, a thug, a gorilla, and a porch monkey who ought to be lynched. Black people also played their part in the soap opera. Some were embarrassed about the athlete’s interview and accused Sherman of being clownish, coonish, minstrel-like, ghetto, and ungracious in victory.
Other black people rightly defended Sherman from attack but for all the wrong reasons. They felt the need to point out that he grew up in a hard working two-parent family, graduated at the top of his high school class and went on to the prestigious Stanford University.
Of course it shouldn’t matter how Sherman grew up or where or if he graduated from college. He did nothing wrong except make many white people mad and that is all that should have been pointed out. Respectability politics are deadly and keep black people from speaking up for one another and against blatant racism.
Sports are said to bring people together but they are also used to make people conform to nonsensical codes of behavior. Sherman was said to lack “class” because of his interview and because he boldly indicated that his opponents choked. The word class is one of the most over used in sports and ridiculous when used to talk about professional football. It is an enormously profitable business which is unbelievably also a non-profit corporation. Its actions are not those indicative of good sportsmanship.
“Not only are they physically battered but they are not treated well psychologically either.”
The NFL recently reached a $765 million agreement with retired players as compensation for brain damage caused by chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition which causes Alzheimer’s disease symptoms in young men. Former star players are now living with severe memory loss and serious physical ailments as a result of injuries sustained while playing football.
During the same game that made Richard Sherman a household name, another black man, Navorro Bowman, was carried off the field after suffering a horrific knee injury. That is the plight of the black men in the NFL. They have made a Faustian bargain in order to earn an average salary of $1.9 million per year. Not only are they physically battered but they are not treated well psychologically either.
Earlier this season, Jonathan Martin left the Miami dolphins after suffering hazing and threats at the hands of a white teammate. When the Martin story broke, some of his black teammates criticized him and not his white tormentor. Martin was accused of being “weak” and was advised to “keep it in house” and “man up.” We were told that the NFL locker room culture is a distinct and wonderful place which shouldn’t be questioned by outsiders. It was incredibly sad to hear black athletes talking about themselves like old time white segregationists pleading with the world to let them keep their way of life.
Former player turned actor Terry Crews commented on the incident by describing football as being like a prison. “The NFL is like jail with money. It really is. There is a culture of intimidation, humiliation and violence.” It seems that Sherman said out loud what is said behind closed doors in the football world.
It is all incredibly pathetic. A business earns many millions of dollars by destroying men’s lives. They are then dragged kicking and screaming to make restitution while enabling a culture which exists only in a prison yard.
“The NFL is like jail with money.”
The arrangement is fine with most people. They identify with their teams and hate others and are joined in their feelings with total strangers. It supposedly brings us together until someone shows the dark underbelly.
Richard Sherman isn’t a villain but he isn’t a hero either. He chose a very grueling line of work which may damage him physically and mentally. He should enjoy his moments of glory because he will inevitably end up with a career life span that is a fraction of what most people will have. His salary is higher than most American’s but at $555,000 is below average in the league.
As for the millions of people who will watch him play in the Super Bowl championship game, they need to think more seriously about other things. They need to ask themselves why the federal judge overseeing the CTE settlement declined to give preliminary approval. Among other concerns, Judge Anita Brody does not believe that the settlement will adequately compensate all former players. She also said that the NFL had failed to provide her with the financials she requested. In other words, the league doesn’t want to pay for the damage it has done.
Football is not very classy. Not classy at all.
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.