This past Sunday night, Richard Sherman proved why he is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Sherman and the Seattle Seahawks battled it out until the final seconds of the game to advance to Superbowl XLVII with a 23-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
Close plays, debatable calls, game clinching reviews, and a game-securing play in the final seconds of the game are all worthy of post-game analysis, yet all of this has come second to the post-game interview between Sherman and reporter Erin Andrews.
Shortly after Sherman participated in the intense interview driven by the adrenaline of a close game and a personal beef with Michael Crabtree, couch-sinking twitter bullies put down their slices of pizza and took to Twitter to demonstrate exactly why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream is far from a reality.
Despite not having any context about Sherman's message, thousands rushed to social media to critique the "unsportsmanlike, thuggish ways" of Sherman. The real-time language flying over social media ranged from passive jokes with subtle racist undertones to the blatant use of racist terminology. Of course, a lot of the online/ social media thugs used deplorable language that Sherman, one of the most intellectually astute players in the NFL, would probably never use himself.
Albeit no stranger to controversy, Sherman has proven himself to be one of the more visibly intellectual and outspoken players in the NFL. This is of little surprise, considering the fact that he graduated second in his high school class and earned a degree in Communications from Stanford University. Sherman, who is also involved with numerous charities, is admired by many for his intellectual curiosity and capabilities. To many, Sherman's impressive resume compliments the confident bravado that he is known to express on occasion. To some, he's multidimensional. He's unique. He's relatable. He's human.
Unfortunately, not everyone sees this.
The image of a dreaded, 6' 3", 195 lb pound Black man giving an impassioned interview with authority and confidence, is enough to bring about society's linear conceptions of Black men.
You see, society has very specific boundaries for Black men and those boundaries are not supposed to be muddled.
We (Black men) are told that we are not supposed to be multidimensional. We are told that we are supposed to be static. We are told that our expression of self (i.e. emotions, opinions) are a threat to society. We are told that we are the antithesis of intelligence, authority, potential, success, kindness, love, progress, and nuance. Occasionally, we have access to a (singular) positive character trait. Unfortunately, the moment that we show any nuance or humanity and challenge linear perceptions of what "it means to be" a Black man, we are automatically reduced to a stereotype.
The exaggerated response to Sherman's (epically awesome) interview reflects this problematic way of thinking. Before thinking that the Stanford educated cornerback was passionately expressing himself following the most high-stakes game of his career, thousands of people jumped to calling Sherman names like a thug, a goon, a villain, and much worse. It's as if the 25 years of accomplishment and success had been reduced to nothing.
But it doesn't end there.
Ironically, the same folk that are calling Sherman a thug are the same folk that called Jonathan Martin a "sissy" for taking a professional and personal stand against harassment. The same critics who are deploring Sharman's "thuggish behavior" are the ones who called Martin, a Stanford educated scholar of Classics, soft for leaving the Miami Dolphins. Does this make any sense?! Martin experienced everything from an alleged physical assault to vile racist commentary, but he's soft for leaving a work situation that most people in their right mind wouldn't put up with?! And then, when a player like Richard Sherman demonstrates the sought-after "aggression" (I call it realness) society expects in football, he is the subject of ridicule?! This does not make any sense.
There is much more to life than football, but there is a lot of learn from the public's reaction to both Sherman and Martin. As community-oriented, Stanford educated African American men, they are similar in that they represent what society thinks is unorthodox for Black males. They are the antithesis to Richie Incognito, Martin's former teammate, whose multidimensionality is at least reflected in his extraordinarily problematic status as an "honorary African American." Think about it. The same critics that gave Incognito a pass for his antics and classified him as "acting Black," contrary to Martin, are now critiquing Sherman for what they perceive as "thuggish" (code: Black) behavior. The irony.
For Black men, there is no escaping the oxymoronic judgment of an imperfect society that, as W.E.B. Du Bois proclaimed, "looks on with amused contempt and pity." Black men (and all of people of color, for that matter) will always have to deal with a double consciousness of identity. However, like Sherman and Martin, we can demonstrate our self autonomy by maintaining our sense of self.
Albeit silent on his situation, Martin has been resolved and consistent with recent investigations of the Miami Dolphins. Likewise, Sherman easily regained his composure following Sunday night's post-game interview with Erin Andrews. Despite elaborating upon the situation in another post-game interview and in a letter, many continue to spew racist and hurtful vile. It's pathetic.
Now to those who think that Sherman somehow "set African Americans hundreds of years back," please reconsider. Following Sherman's lively interview, many African American brothers celebrated in what was a moment of victory and overcoming haters (in this case, Michael Crabtree). Many of us could relate to where Sherman was coming from. Who hasn't been pumped following a meaningful match; who hasn't brought a personal beef to a pick up game? We got it. Brothers were right there with him.
Many of us can also relate to Jonathan Martin, whose entire experience counters conventional narratives about Black Americans. Many Black men are well educated and most certainly, many of us refuse to put up with racial and physical harassment. Many of us get that. We also (should) know that we are not the problem.
The limited understandings of many, tainted with racist notions, is the real problem. The thousands of café conversations, tweets, and YouTube commentary blasting these athletes (and inadvertently all Black men) through coded and blatantly offensive language is beneath us.
We are not thugs. We are not weak. We are not static. We are human beings and we're multidimensional.