In the quest to advance to the 48th Super Bowl, the San Francisco 49ers were defeated by the Seattle Seahawks 17-23 in the final N.F.C. championship game. While Niner fans were upset about the unexpected loss, the reaction of Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman after his team’s win caused more of a stir.
In a post game interview on Jan. 18, Sherman told Erin Andrews of FOX Sports, “Well, I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get. Don’t you ever talk about me.”
Sherman was addressing a previous scuff he had with 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree. While his response did not reflect good sportsmanship, those who watched the interview were quick to judge his character and wrongly resorted to racial slurs.
A common reaction in the Twittersphere were along the lines of calling Sherman an “ape,” “monkey,” “goon,” and “thug.” Comparing Sherman to the likeness of a monkey is similar to how black men were perceived in the 19th century, during the time of blackface minstrelsy. Minstrel shows belittled and dehumanized black men as foolish animals. More than a century later, these derogatory terms are still being used to describe black men whenever they appear to be loud and aggressive.
By understanding the competitive nature of professional sports, we find it very plausible to assume that Sherman’s emotions and passion for football, especially after making the game-saving play that advanced his team to the Super Bowl, overwhelmed him. Even so, people perceived him as just another “angry black man.” One reporter even asked if Sherman has a problem with aggression and if he fought a lot as a kid.
Sherman is an African-American man who comes from Watts, California, a neighborhood notorious for gang-related crime and located 4 miles north of Compton. Sherman is also a graduate of Stanford. His 4.2 grade point average and athletic talents in high school earned him a football scholarship at the university. The moment an African-American person fits a stereotype, why is their entire character based on the negative assumptions society has placed on their race? Why can’t a black figure be angry and not have his or her color be the defining factor that might associate them with aggression and violence, and present them as a ghetto thug?
In light of all the name-calling, Sherman had another response. This time, it was more eloquent than the first, and conducive to his character. He wrote back to his critics in his article, “To Those Who Would Call Me a Thug, or Worse…”, featured in a column he contributes to on Sports Illustrated online.
“To those who would call me a thug or worse because I show passion on a football field–don’t judge a person’s character by what they do between the lines,” Sherman writes. “Judge a man by what he does off the field, what he does for his community, what he does for his family.”
Should this not serve as a testament to how we should all rightfully perceive a person? Yet, as Sherman points out later in his article, the reality is, people are quick to judge and it is sad that the world still works in this racially constructed way.
Sherman’s momentary lapse in character due to his win was wrongly used to support the stereotype threat attached to black men and black athletes. An offhand post-game comment reflects a small part of who he is, and is not the entirety of his character. His background shows that no one really fits the “color/race label” that people use to box others in.