It’s been about a week since Richard Sherman’s now infamous post-game interview. Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I thought I’d share what about it concerns me the most.
Before we get to that, I’ll make a few comments about what doesn’t concern me. I’m not concerned that a professional football player said mean things about another professional football player. I’m not really that concerned that a grown man made a fool of himself on TV. I’m not really concerned that my kids will be tempted to emulate his foolishness in their own games. Basically, I’m not concerned about Sherman at all
But I am concerned with what we learn about ourselves from our reaction.
I am concerned that we are racists.
I’m concerned by how many times I heard white people (my friends and commentators) call Sherman a “thug,” a word dripping with racist undertones. I’m concerned that we called him a thug more because of how he looks than what he said. I’m concerned that we never call guys like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning thug, even though both have been caught on camera saying far worse things.
But I’m even more concerned why we stopped calling him a thug. I’m concerned it wasn’t just because we found out about his charity, or what kind of a life he lives off the field. I’m concerned it wasn’t even because we heard him talk in other interviews, and realized how bright he is, or that he got really good grades in high school and college. I’m concerned because I can’t shake the gnawing feeling that the primary reason we stopped calling him thug is because he WENT TO STANFORD. I’m concerned that we actually thought, “That crazy black man said mean things on TV, but he also went to a college where smart, white kids go. I guess he isn’t a thug after all.”
I’m concerned that the only thing that separates Sherman’s rant from Muhammed Ali’s iconic “I’m the greatest of all time!!” is that Ali is too old to be a scary black man.
I’m concerned that “thug” is less about a person’s actions, and more about our own comfort zone.
I am concerned that we are hypocrites.
I’m concerned that we’re forgetting that the NFL has grown into a billion dollar industry in large part by figuring out how to channel warrior impulses. I’m concerned that so many people who were upset by Sherman’s comments are the same people who already know that professional athletes say mean things to each other all game long. I’m concerned by the reality that we’re not upset that it happens, we’re just upset that we had to hear it happen. I’m concerned that we will happily keep paying grown men to say and do mean things to each other on the field, just as long as we don’t have to actually hear them say it. I’m concerned that our moral compass is no firmer than Nike’s, who sponsored cyclist Lance Armstrong through a decade of doping, then feigned shock and outrage while canceling his multi-million dollar contract the moment he became unprofitable.
I am concerned that we don’t really care about justice.
I’m concerned beyond words that my country reacted more viscerally to Sherman’s words than to Winston’s actions. Over a year ago Jameis Winston (Heisman, BCS Championship winner) had sex with a girl. While he was having sex with her, one of his teammates walked in, hoping he could have sex with her next; apparently that was the norm with Jameis’ girls. The next day the girl went to the police saying she was raped, but then her case was shelved for nearly a year. The intervening year shrouded justice in an impenetrable fog, making it impossible to either exonerate or convict Winston. As State Attorney Willie Meggs said in December, “I think we could have identified the suspect in the case, a lot earlier, had certain things been done.” He was also carefully avoided saying that Winston was innocent. Just that we don’t know.
While I have no idea whether Winston raped this girl (Brian Banks reminds us of the danger and cost of wrongful accusations), the whole situation looks incredibly suspicious. And here’s what we do know: Winston treats women like trash. Winston treated a human being like a sex doll, Winston gave his human sex dolls to his teammates. Best case scenario, Winston treats girls like sex dolls. Worst case scenario, Winston rapes girls.
Winston is a hero. Sherman is a thug. We’re far more offended by what Sherman said than by what Winston did.
I don’t have time to be concerned with Sherman. I’m far too preoccupied with my concerns for the rest of us.