Racial code words are about as American as apple pie.
A black person is considered “well-spoken” by those who don’t expect a black person to be intelligent. President Barack Obama was called the “food stamp president” on numerous occasions by Newt Gingrich during the 2012 presidential election cycle. Later, Republican nominee Mitt Romney claimed the president stripped the work requirement from the welfare reform law – which was proven false on numerous occasions.
Both tactics using racial code words were meant to drum up racialized fear among white voters. If a candidate can make taxpayers think all their hard-earned money is going to poor, lazy blacks, then those voters are probably more likely to vote for said candidate.
But outside of politics, this racialization of minorities can lead to unwarranted negative reactions to an entire group of people.
Insert Richard Sherman.
Sherman, a defensive back for the Seattle Seahawks, is an asshole. There is no denying that.
Since entering the NFL in 2011, Sherman has made it a mission to be the loudest and most obnoxious player in the league. He has personally created beefs with other players just to be able to argue his statistics to a mass audience. He infamously went on ESPN’s premier talk show “First Take” to argue with blowhard television personality Skip Bayless over his claim of being the best at his position in the NFL.
There is no denying Sherman is as annoying as any loud mouth pundit on any of the three cable news networks combined.
But what Sherman did after his Seahawks defeated the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night to advance to the Super Bowl has nothing to with anything he has said or done in his three-year career.
After sealing the win for Seattle, Sherman gave a heavily emotional interview with Fox Sports reporter Erin Andrews, where he angrily yelled that he was the “best corner in the game” and that San Francisco player Michael Crabtree, the subject of his frustration, was a “sorry receiver.”
He then followed up with, “Don’t you ever talk about me,” which was directed at Crabtree, who had muffed Sherman only minutes before the interview.
Cue the criticism.
Scores of Twitter users began to label Sherman as “classless,” a “thug” and an overall embarrassment to the NFL. Some even threatened violence against him, which is hypocritical at the least.
ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth referred to Sherman’s antics as “embarrassing” and “shameful.” Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander insinuated that he would hit Sherman with a fastball if Sherman were a baseball player. One Twitter user even suggested that Sherman be introduced to George Zimmerman to be taught a lesson.
Many expect Sherman to act like a true professional in a sport that is far from civil.
This is the same league that recently agreed to pay former players $765 million so it wouldn’t have to admit to not protecting them from concussions. Also, this is the same league that locked out its players two years ago because billionaire owners weren’t making enough money. On Sunday, a player had his knee pushed in a direction it is not meant to go, all for the world to see.
Where’s the class in all that?
Short answer: There is none.
Calling Sherman, an African-American, “classless” and a “thug” are racial code words meant to distinguish him from the model citizens of the NFL: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, etc.
In some viewers’ eyes, Sherman is no different than actual thugs or violent criminals even though he received a bachelor’s degree from Stanford and started a master’s program before declaring for the NFL, according to ESPN.
Despite his loudmouth antics, Sherman has proven to be a well-mannered, well-behaved player in a league that has seen two of its players (Jovan Belcher and Aaron Hernandez) accused of murder in the past two seasons.
All Sherman’s accomplishments unfairly went out the window when he decided to express himself on national television, even though he was mandated to speak to the press immediately after a highly emotional game.
Due to one interview, Sherman is accused of being the stereotypical image of the black male just because he doesn’t live up to the unattainable standards set by a white male-dominated society.
There is no denying Sherman should dial it down a notch when he decides to speak. But making him out to be a pariah in an imperfect league is just as bad as anything Sherman said Sunday night.