"Say hello to the bad guy/hi to the bad guy/I come from the bottom, but now I’m mad fly/They say that I’m a menace, that’s the picture they paint/They say a lot about me. Let me tell you what I ain’t.”
- Jay Z “Say Hello” from American Gangster
Dear Richard Sherman,
You have set the world ablaze with your brash talk and loud-mouthed bravado. You’ve also been called everything from a thug to a blemish on the game of professional football. Though the layperson will only recall your much publicized post-game interview with ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews, one can easily research your track record for shooting from the hip and telling it just how you see fit.
The most memorable of your diatribes came on ESPN’s First Take last year, when you went in on sports reporter Skip Bayless. While I am by no means a Skip Bayless apologist, his record as a top-level sports journalist with over 20 years of experience cannot be dismissed. But that is exactly what you did when you told Bayless that he had accomplished nothing and that you were just better at life than he was. LoL
Did I laugh? Sure. But the immediate backlash from that affair painted you as aggressive and egomaniacal, two attributes that most Americans would prefer that a black man refrain from expressing off the playing field. But this would eventually fade from memory. In December 2012, you told Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports that you were “livid” over players you felt were not as talented as you, being drafted ahead of you in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Your play does indeed speak for itself. Though you have only been in the league three years, you have accumulated more interceptions than anyone over the past two seasons. Despite that, people are still talking about players like Darrelle Revis as being the best cornerback in the National Football League. And you have taken umbrage to that perceived slight on more than one occasion.
It is not uncommon for a player to use disdain, either feigned or authentic, as a motivational tool to give themselves a competitive edge. Understood. When you’re playing against some of the most physically gifted athletes in the NFL on a week-to-week basis any edge that’s non-pharmaceutical is welcomed.
Truth be told, this type of self-motivation is not for the faint of heart. Especially when you have gone big game hunting, having talked smack to the likes of New England Patriots QB Tom Brady and Detroit Lions star wide out Calvin Johnson. You also spoke out about not being selected to the 2012 NFL Pro Bowl team after logging 61 tackles, 7 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles. Those were monster numbers for anyone, Pro Bowl or not. That slight was somewhat rectified when you were named to the Associated Press NFL ALL-Pro First Team. But, in a world where outspoken black men are vilified, your candor is seldom understood and never appreciated by anyone but the most savvy public relations representative who would agree that any press is good press. Although not always for a man of color.
At the time, the San Francisco 49ers played your Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship game on Sunday. During the game you continued jaw-wrestling as Niners receiver Michael Crabtree struggled to beat you off the line. For those that were watching, it was apparent that the one-on-one contest was heated. But few knew to what extent.
The Seattle Times reported that Crabtree had tried to start a fight with you in the past at a charity function hosted by Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald last year.
"While there, Sherman went to shake Crabtree's hand, and Crabtree tried to start a fight, according to Sherman's older brother, Branton," writes Jerry Brewer of The Times. "'I'm going to make a play and embarrass him,' Richard Sherman vowed that day."
Trash-talking in the NFL is par for the course, and prima donna attitudes of some receivers are largely the catalyst for the talking. However you, as well as St. Louis cornerback Cortland Finnegan, have usurped the receiver quality for jibber jabber and incorporated it in your games. But unlike Finnegan, you aren’t known for taking physical cheap shots. Only verbal ones. Momma used to say, ‘Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you.’
We watched as the Seahawks regained the lead in the second half, and the 49ers offense sputtered on consecutive drives. It came down to you and Crabtree for the final play of the game. It was a fitting end to a heated playoff contest. Your tipped pass to linebacker Malcolm Smith for the interception sealed the deal. And afterwards, like a true sportsman, you went to shake hands with wide out Michael Crabtree, who rebuffed your overture with a mush to your grill.
Anyone who’s played football knows that a face mask smush is one of the most outwardly disrespectful actions a player can do to an opponent. Some have actually gotten into fist fights on the field for less. But instead of retaliating physically, you used your words that came with immediate timing. Fresh off the play you were ushered to the sideline for a post-game interview with Erin Andrews.
In a scene that seemed straight out of Hulk Hogan’s book, you went directly at your on-the-field adversary in classic WWE fashion.
“I’m the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s what’s going to happen. Don’t you ever talk about me!”
“Who’s talking about you” Andrews asked incredulously.
“Crabtree!” You yelled. “Don’t you open your mouth about the best.”
Consistent coverage of every facet of professional sports is something modern media is great at doing. Most of the time, post-game interviews are just plain boring, with players uttering the same league-approved team talk. Comments like, ‘It was a team effort’ and ‘I just want to thank God’ are common. However, every reporter’s dream is to get the good stuff. The rants, the trash talk and the verbosity, along with highlights, are the hallmark of good ratings in sports media. Though she did appear frightened by the fervor with which your message was initially delivered, Andrews was delighted to get the quote.
“Athletes don’t do that. They’re usually composed,” she told USA Today. “They usually take a minute and that’s why we grab them right after games because we hope they lose their minds like that, we hope they show pure joy. We hope he does the same thing at the Super Bowl. We don’t want a watered-down version of him.”
Remember Richard, the media loves drama.
Feeding the reality show-like journalistic engine, your Seahawks reached out to Andrews to line up a one-on-one interview during the Super Bowl. “It’s great stuff,” Erin said.
After you spoke your passion Sunday, social media immediately jumped all over it, calling you everything from a thug to an uneducated cretin.
Why would you be considered any of those things based on your words?
So what, you called Crabtree a “sorry receiver” and said he was “mediocre.” You did not once use any profanity nor did you threaten anyone – both of which are have been done to death during post-game interviews. So, why have your actions been at the epicenter of sports media coverage for three days?
Memories. Dark, broad nosed, racist ones featuring loud-mouthed black athletes in America. Muhammad Ali was vilified before taking his historic stance on the Vietnam War because of his penchant for trash talk. One of his early monikers was the “Louisville Lip.” Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders, now an analyst on the NFL network, was hated in all NFL cities outside of Dallas, Texas, San Francisco, California and Baltimore, Maryland for his mouth. A lot, I believe, had to do with him being a jheri curl-dripping, gold chain-wearing, dark-skinned brother from the south. You better believe it did.
Current boxing great Floyd Mayweather might be one of the most hated figures in all of American pro sports today, in large part because he is never afraid to say who is the greatest – himself. Never mind his considerably philanthropic attributes, he is often frowned upon by both blacks and whites. His positives outside of the ring seldom are taken into consideration.
Meanwhile, former NBA great Larry Bird is one of the top five basketball trash talkers of all time. He even got the usually classy and reserved Julius “Dr. J” Erving angry enough to yoke him up during a game. But, to my memory, he was never called to task for being brash or boastful.
How many non-baseball fans know that Josh Beckett of the Los Angeles Dodgers talks smack? Or that AJ Pierzynski of the Texas Rangers does the same? If they don’t know it is not simply because the NFL is more popular than MLB, but because their antics have never been played up to the extent that yours have since the NFC Championship game. They say perception is equal to reality for most sports fans and this incident simply feeds in to what some already believe about your personal pedigree.
But that’s the problem, Sherman. Society’s Negro Problem rears its ugly head yet again. Black athletes who talk are generally seen in the negative, looked down upon as doing something to draw attention to themselves.
And if the latter is true. And this is part of a branding strategy. You’re current salary of $500,000 and change, which comes up on the end of a rookie contract, might be upped thanks to your marketing strategy that may prove to be genius. You now have 323, 000 more Twitter followers today than you had on Saturday. Meanwhile, Michael Crabtree only has 6,000 more.
Who’d have thought that a boy raised in Compton, CA could be so smart – hypothetically speaking, of course, if this was a ploy. If this outburst was your plan. You are certainly no thug. Dumb? No. You graduated second in your high school class and went on to graduate with a communications degree from Stanford University, one of the most rigorous academic standards in the country.
So, where do thug and stupid fit into the fabric of your personality? Nowhere.
But Americans are programmed to assume that an excited and outspoken black man is either unintelligent, uneducated or both, thanks to a rather myopic view that society at large has about what a boastful black man represents.
You Sherman, are the epitome of young, gifted and black. Your philanthropic attributes are outstanding. And the way you willed yourself into a top NFL corner after dropping to the 5th round when you were drafted – those things mean everything. But sound bites have reduced your entire existence down to what was seen in a 30-second interview.
Is it fair? Likely not, but that’s just the way it is.
So while I have absolutely no problem with the way you expressed yourself, as a fan, as a supporter of those who do their best, I advise you. Sherman, be mindful of how negative perceptions made by the masses could ultimately affect your bottom line from an endorsement perspective. To the victor goes the spoils, but to say that race had absolutely nothing to do with the negative media firestorm that ensued after your initial statements against Michael Crabtree would be ignoring prior precedents set with smack talking black athletes of yester-year. You have given closet racists everywhere a reason to throw a hanger of disdain at you from the security of Internet chat forums. And as wrong as this is, as real as it may be, the lesson learned: Play the game, watch your mouth, and train your emotions – especially when the microphone is on. Especially when you’re black in America.