Thug. Am I right? Probably. If not, stop reading; you won’t get it.
Between his post-NFC Championship fireworks and behavior during the intermittent two week break until the Super Bowl, and the reaction of the sports talking heads, that word “thug” has hung in the air now for 11 days. Avoided by most and dismissed by many, the racial undercurrent of the situation is disheartening for a nation that allegedly prides itself on racial tolerance and harmony, boasting the election of a black president as evidence of this “fact”.
I wish the focus leading up to the the Super Bowl was somewhere else. I would love to draw up diagrams of how I think Peyton Manning will attack the exceptional Seattle Seahawk defense maybe even Sherman specifically. That is what I love about football, and sports on the whole: the scheming, the game on the field. In good and bad ways, sports have become bigger than the game though in this day and age.
Richard Sherman grew up in Compton, CA. Son of a garbage man and social worker, Sherman graduated as the Salutatorian of Dominguez High School. Recruited heavily by the then University of Southern California coach and area demigod, Pete Carroll, Sherman made Carroll wait 2.5 hours for a recruiting meeting. Sherman wasn’t being a prima donna; he refused to leave an advanced placement class. And yet, after playing for a Pop Warner team sponsored by Dr. Dre and meeting other Compton rap legends Nate Dogg and Warren G, Sherman surprised everyone and went from Compton to Stanford. Because he could. Oh yeah, and also to get a Stanford education.
Sherman had a bit of a rocky time at Stanford. He started as a wide receiver, then shifted to cornerback after personality clashes with then Stanford Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. Through it all, he excelled as All-American track star. Sherman graduated from Stanford in 2010. His lack of college cornerback experience left scouts and analysts dubious that, despite his size and wingspan, Sherman could succeed as an NFL cornerback. Reenter old friend Pete Carroll – now the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. Carroll still remembered watching Sherman dominate Carroll’s son in high school and his failed attempt to get Sherman to play for him at USC. Carroll was finally going to coach Sherman as the Seahawks chose him in the 5th round, 154st overall.
We all know by now that Tom Brady can name the 6 QB’s taken ahead of him in the 2000 NFL Draft. Sherman claims to be able to do the same thing with cornerbacks taken before him in the 2011 draft and I don’t doubt him. My point? In New England we love that Brady can do that. The Brady 6 special gives us pride and a sense that Brady, even now with 3 Super Bowl wins and being married to Gisele Bundchen, is still just a blue collar guy, perpetually underestimated and driven by his status as the 199th overall pick in the 2000 draft. In the end, and I’ve read and heard this a million times, Sherman is a guy who you love when he is on “your” team, and you hate when he isn’t. Well fuck that, he isn’t on my team, but I still love him.
So why is this well educated, well spoken man the public’s current personification of all things thug? Perhaps it’s that his hometown is Compton; a section of LA that has bred an enormous number of people that are viewed by white, privileged Americans as thugs. Maybe when white, privileged Americans see a young, talkative, loud, energetic, dreadlocked black man they are reflexively scared. Maybe scared is too emotive a word in 2014, but we are certainly dismissive. That scared/dismissive attitude is rooted deeply within our culture, our history is steeped in it. Lest we forget, our founding fathers wrote a Constitution that considered black Americans, a.k.a. slaves in the majority of the 13 colonies, as 3/5’s of 1 person, and didn’t allow them to vote. That our country had to go to Civil War to grudgingly acknowledge that the words, “all men are created equal” applied to all men. (And we still fucked it up with women for another 60 years.) And though slavery has long ceased to exist, America often reflects a culture that is enslaved to the persevering ingrained racism.
Our president is a black man. We as a nation elected him, twice. The sense I take away from how white privileged America views President Obama though, is that he is the exception and he is safe. Maybe its his even keel and clean cut looks and also that his time in front of the press corps is strictly regimented and scripted. Yet, when we see an athlete whose body is still pumping with adrenaline following his game-clinching play speak bragadousicsly about himself and his team, in a loud and energetic way to a blond white reporter we brand him a thug. How is it that we allow the judgement of the ignorant, often faceless, moral army decide that Richard Sherman a thug, a common criminal? He was exuberant, boisterous, emphatic and in the end sounded a bit like a modern day Muhammad Ali. I loved his attitude and his energy and enthusiasm for his sport, his team, and the victory he and his team worked hard to achieve.
Ali had it harder than Sherman ever will, but Sherman obviously has a new set of obstacles to overcome. Sherman can be a new leader in the battle against racism and stereotyping. He has always been vocal like Ali, since he heard his first Ali’s story at age 12. Sherman has an opportunity to use his Stanford education to focus his talent for words; he has the chance to use his persistent attitude that is evident on and off the field when he is pushing his teammates- both current and former- and leverage his enthusiasm for charitable work in order to change people’s mind about what a thug looks like. Because Richard Sherman is not a thug and its deplorable that he has been judged as such.
And what is white America really saying when they say thug? Its a politically correct way of saying the N word, isn’t it? Sure, someone drops the N word and its big news because thats a slur, but what have we done since “polite” society decided that the N word was a slur? We have translated the meaning to other words. Negro, colored, and the N word itself were all once acceptable terms to describe blacks, but as they started to be used in a disparagingly racial they were phased out of “polite” society. The same thing is now happening with thug, and Richard Sherman has become its convenient poster boy.
After the interview which earned him the thug title, I read a lot about RIchard Sherman. Some of what was published I knew, a lot I didn’t know. I also watched two movies that deal with racism in a very front and center way, Glory and American History X. I don’t know that I’ve had any great revelation, but I believe in the inherent goodness of people. I believe that these ingranined baisises are bull shit and we need to make them disappear from society.