Richard Sherman’s Play And The Vast Overreaction

darrren-bell-thug-cartoon
(Cartoon by Darrin Bell.)

I found the Richard Sherman bruhaha surprisingly interesting, so even though it’s a bit past the due date, I thought I’d post some links.

For those of you who don’t know, Richard Sherman is a football player for the Seattle Seahawks who made a spectacular play at the end of an important game, blocking a pass that would otherwise have been a touchdown for the other team. Partly because of this play, the Seahawks will be playing in the Superbowl this Sunday.

sherman-blocks

Okay, I don’t especially like football or sports, but that’s pretty darned beautiful. Here it is in animated form:

Sherman gave a brief post-game interview in which he yelled at the camera, and the internet’s head exploded, and much of the yucky brain matter splattering around was ridiculously racist.

After seeing the fuss that it caused, I was surprised when I finally saw the interview itself; Surprised, that is, at how inoffensive Sherman’s comments actually were. Via NPR, here’s a transcript:

Andrews: “The final play, take me through it.”

Sherman: “Well, I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get! Don’t you ever talk about me!”

Andrews: “Who was talking about you?”

Sherman: “Crabtree!1 Don’t you open your mouth about the best, or I’m gonna shut it for you real quick! LOB!” (That’s a reference to the Seattle defense’s nickname, “Legion of Boom.”)

The most interesting thing I saw because of this controversy had nothing to do with the controversy itself. It’s this video of Sherman talking about the strategy and tactics that go into being a great cornerback. He argues, convincingly, that what sets him apart from other cornerbacks is not his physical prowess but his understanding of the game and the opposing players.

I also enjoyed this interview with Sherman, in which Sherman shows a level of open contempt for the interviewer (“I’m intelligent enough and capable enough to understand that you are an ignorant, pompous, egotistical cretin…”) that’s really pretty rare to see.

Gregg Howard on Deadspin wrote:

When you’re a public figure, there are rules. Here’s one: A public personality can be black, talented, or arrogant, but he can’t be any more than two of these traits at a time. It’s why antics and soundbites from guys like Brett Favre, Johnny Football and Bryce Harper seem almost hyper-American, capable of capturing the country’s imagination, but black superstars like Sherman, Floyd Mayweather, and Cam Newton are seen as polarizing, as selfish, as glory boys, as distasteful and perhaps offensive.

Sarah Blackwood has interesting things to say about the genre-bending aspects of the Sherman interview:

What Sherman said to the reporter after the game would not have been out of place on the field. But it was out of place in the post-game interview, which has a very specific structure—a pandering, breathless, thankful, selflessness in the service of banal clichés. These clichés attempt to defuse the physical violence that has just taken place on the field. The genre of the post-game interviews reassure us that, no matter how brutal the spectacle, we spectators aren’t really encouraging brutality. Sports are civil, after all! (This is, perhaps, why so many post-game interviews are conducted by women—emblems of civilization and all that.)

Use this thread to discuss Richard Sherman, football in general, or even this Sunday’s Superbowl game (which I won’t be watching).

  1. Can I just say that “Crabtree” would be a wonderful last name for a Simpsons character? []
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32 Responses to Richard Sherman’s Play And The Vast Overreaction

  1. 1
    Jake Squid says:

    At the time it was my favorite post-game, on-field interview ever. The best part was the stunned look of the reporter who had no idea what to do. You could feel the confusion in the broadcast truck. It seemed to take forever for the director to tell her to wrap it up so they could cut to somewhere, anywhere else.

    Adding to the awesomeness at the time was Sherman going over to Crabtree immediately after the play – before the interview – to shake his hand and Crabtree shoving Sherman in the face.

    In other, Super Bowel related thoughts, I’m picking Seattle to win by a score of 19-13. Nate Silver is with me on this prediction although he is not bold enough to give a score.

  2. 2
    Myca says:

    As long as we’re talking about Richard Sherman, let’s take a moment to remember that he grew up in Compton, the son of a sanitation worker, finished second in his high school class, and went to Stanford, where he graduated with a 3.9 GPA.

    If he’s a thug, I hope we find away to produce more thugs.

    —Myca

  3. 3
    Tristan says:

    I know that lots of other non-black NFL players have been called “thugs”. Aaron Hernandez comes to mind right away – he was being called a thug long before he murdered someone.

    Justin Bieber isn’t called a thug because he is basically non-threatening. A joke. I have seen insults like “little pussy”.

  4. 4
    Tristan says:

    I guess in summary: If you are an immature teenager, you are going to be called something other than a thug. If you are an overbearing, full-of-himself congressman, you are going to be called something other than a thug. If you are a muscled athlete who exhibits threatening (“thuggish”) behavior, you are going to be called a thug.

    Mostly people pick out words that fit the behavior. “Thug” doesn’t fit Justin Bieber. “Thug” is much more likely to fit Richard Sherman – at least I can see the difference. So I don’t really even understand the cartoon.

  5. 5
    RonF says:

    I’m an older white guy and I had no problem with what Richard Sherman said. You put a microphone in front of a guy who makes a play like that within a minute after he makes it and nails down a trip to the Super Bowl, that’s what you would expect to hear. You’ve gotta get geeked up to play at that level, and he was still there.

    Were there any poll numbers on this? Was “Richard Sherman = thug” a widespread thing, or is it just a small # of people that the media is blowing out of proportion to make this sound as though there’s some kind of racial issue here?

    And, as usual I confess, I call “bullshit” on the racial angle anyway. I’ve heard plenty of white kids described as thugs. Not Justin Beiber, though. I could slap that punk around with one hand and not spill my beer in the other.

    Who describes Bieber as “misguided young man”? And the Representative as “behaved inappropriately”? I think that whoever wrote this cartoon is more interested in advancing a particular concept that he or she is about accurately reflecting what people think.

    Leno last night said that he was surprised that Justin Bieber was able to get out of his child restraint seat in order to punch the limo driver.

  6. 6
    Chris says:

    I guess in summary: If you are an immature teenager, you are going to be called something other than a thug.

    Yeah, because that word was never used to describe Trayvon Martin…

  7. 7
    Jake Squid says:

    Was “Richard Sherman = thug” a widespread thing, or is it just a small # of people that the media is blowing out of proportion to make this sound as though there’s some kind of racial issue here?

    You could take the 5 minutes to look it up for yourself. Or you can just say that racism doesn’t exist. I never would have guessed which option you would choose.

  8. 8
    RonF says:

    I’m on deadline and don’t have the 5 minutes. And “the media found 4 media people/irate viewers who used the word” or “50 people on Twitter said it” doesn’t mean it was widespread.

  9. 9
    Jake Squid says:

    No, that wouldn’t mean it was widespread. Then again, you don’t know that your statement is true. You have no idea if it’s true because you haven’t checked it out. Perhaps, rather than making your usual “no racism here” assumptions without even a cursory glance, you could wait until you had the 5 minutes to take a look before saying anything about it.

    I mean, sure, I could speculate that your deadline is only tight because you spent most of the last two months playing solitaire and writing love notes to your wife. That could be true! But I tend not to do that. Do you know why? It’s because I don’t know if that is true or even likely. I haven’t the vaguest idea because I haven’t checked it out. But it could be true! Why not speculate the thing that matches my preconceived belief?

    Is it too much to ask you to stop doing that?

  10. 10
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Some of the yelling is because Sherman was black.
    Some of the yelling is because Sherman stepped outside the norm.

    This is pretty obvious, right? There are non-racist norm-enforcers just as there are racist anarchists. And everything in between. My own suspicion is that it’s the usual mix: the obviously-racist things are racist, of course, but the fact that he is black makes it more likely that people will say NON-obviously-racist negative things.

    I’m really not a football watcher, but surely there’s been some sort of relatively comparable thing happen before, right? This can’t literally be the first time that someone broke the “the game was great we played hard so did they proud to be a ___” interview rule. Nor can it be the first time it happened by a black man.

    If you want to try to distinguish between the two, you need to use a control. Folks who think that there’s “no racism here” should go and try to find some comparable experiences in which white dudes get called thugs, animals, etc., with an equivalent level of press and interest. And as for the folks who think that all Sherman opponents are only angry out of racism alone–well, to the degree that they exist (I haven’t read anything of the sort) they would be obliged to go and demonstrate that white dudes who act the same are treated better.

    (My favorite part was the interview in which Sherman refused to pretend that the interviewer was some sort of genius, and schooled him on camera. Awesome.)

  11. 11
    JutGory says:

    g&w, the best, most recent example (that I recall) was Incognito. He is a white guy who was called a thug.
    -Jut

  12. 12
    Jake Squid says:

    I’m really not a football watcher, but surely there’s been some sort of relatively comparable thing happen before, right?

    I watch a good amount of football and have done so for 35+ years. I’ve never seen an on-field interview go like that. That’s part of what made it so wonderful. I didn’t have to hear:
    “I thank the Lord…”
    “Jesus is…”
    “God blessed me with…”
    “It is what it is.”
    “Both teams played hard…”
    “I love you, mom.”

  13. 13
    Denise says:

    It’s very frustrating that so many white people refuse to believe that “thug” is a racialized term, or refuse to honor the very real, very common experience of black people that “thug” is racialized.

    In order to declare it racist, we must submit a peer reviewed study proving it, apparently. Unless there is a spreadsheet and official, dispassionate analysis, along with a examination of the true heart feelings of every non-black person who uses the word “thug”, then it’s just not fair to call something racist. We have to stay neutral.

    Even though so many black people experience that word as racist.

    What’s happening here is that we are declaring the “neutral” position to be “not racist”. We’re privileging the non-black position as the one that is “neutral”, and demanding that black people, and their allies, prove that racism happens. This is one of the ways that racism works! Not only do black people have to suffer from racism, but they they are held to a ridiculously high standard of proof before their experiences of racism are believed! Why aren’t more people holding non-black people up to the same high standard in order to believe that they’re NOT racist?

    We already KNOW racism happens. Racism is endemic in American culture, especially anti-black racism. It seems to me that given our history (and present) of anti-black racism, and the fact that the word “thug” was used on TV to discuss Richard Sherman more after this game than has ever been used on any single day before, and black people are out there saying that “thug” is used against them in a racist way, the “neutral” position ought to be that “thug” is probably racist. And if non-black people want to argue against it, then maybe THEY should be the ones submitting peer-reviewed studies, proving to the satisfaction of black people everywhere that “thug” actually isn’t racist, and that their personal experiences and histories are a lie or at least a big huge misunderstanding.

  14. 14
    Jake Squid says:

    The interview Sherman did with Bayless was awesome. It was like watching any of a thousand comment threads done in live action.

  15. 15
    Lkeke35 says:

    Thank you Denise.

    I don’t think there is a word in the English language that expresses just how d*** sick and tired PoC (women, the disabled, transgender) are of constantly being gaslighted like this. Of forever being told that your personal , lived experience is not valid and that you need to calm down and look at it rationally. (Judging by the example set by countless Biebers, Becks, Limbaughs and Grimms, white,cisgender males are the font from which all rationality flows.)

  16. 16
    kate says:

    Denise – well done

    JutGory – That is a false equivalency. Incognito was accused of a pattern of bullying. That’s not remotely comparable to making an arrogant, arguably unsportsmanlike comment in a post-game interview. The “thug” bar is set much lower for black men and boys. That double standard is racist.

  17. 17
    nm says:

    Well, I suppose it’s possible that someone whose entire personal experience of interacting with thugs is watching Omar on The Wire might be able to equate the guy who says “call me Mr. All-Pro Stanford Graduate Sherman” with thuggishness. Otherwise, it’s difficult to make that connection.

  18. 18
    Ruchama says:

    Can I just say that “Crabtree” would be a wonderful last name for a Simpsons character?

    The teacher in the Our Gang shorts was Miss Crabtree. I’ve heard someone wonder whether Ms. Krabappel was supposed to be a reference to that.

  19. 19
    Ampersand says:

    [I posted this comment before noticing Kate's similar comment. Sorry, Kate, didn't mean to seem to ignore you. --Amp]

    g&w, the best, most recent example (that I recall) was Incognito. He is a white guy who was called a thug.
    -Jut

    Jut, your example proves how racist the use of “thug” is in US culture.

    Icognito, a white man, was called a thug for sending texts saying things such as “I’m going to shoot you and claim self defense.” and leaving voicemails saying things like “Fuck you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.”

    He also is someone who seeminngly is unusually violent even in pro football. CBS: “Incognito has long had a reputation as one of the NFL’s dirtiest players. During his first four years, he led the league in penalties for unnecessary roughness, and the St. Louis Rams got fed up with his undisciplined play and released him during the 2009 season.”

    I don’t know if the accusations are fair or not – Icognito has said his texts and VMs were good-natured rough banter, and some say he’s reformed his on-field behavior and is now a nice guy. But what he’s been accused of is genuinely thuggish behavior, and that’s the reason he’s been called a thug.

    In contrast, Sherman did nothing even remotely comparable to what Icognito is accused of. He yelled into a camera about how great he is and how mediocre he considers another player’s skills. That’s it. In what world is saying “I rock and that other player sucks” being a thug?

    White men get called thugs for acting like thugs. Black men get called thugs for not acting deferential.

  20. 20
    Ampersand says:

    Ron:

    Was “Richard Sherman = thug” a widespread thing, or is it just a small # of people that the media is blowing out of proportion to make this sound as though there’s some kind of racial issue here?

    As Denise pointed out in her excellent comment, no one has ever been called a “thug” on TV in one day as much as Sherman was. So yes, widespread.

  21. 21
    Abbe Faria says:

    This is certainly a strange conversation for members of the older generation.

    It is common knowledge thug was a Hindi word and originally referred to Indian criminals. However, most of us are familiar with its use – after it passed into English – to describe white common and organised criminals (in the sense of goon, ruffian or hooligan), and also practitioners of political violence (“nazi” or “communist thug”). In the 1990s it seems it was adopted by some African-Americans to describe themselves and their “gangster” way-of-life; the google search engine finds references to the particular influence of Mr. Tupac Shakur. It is this which appears to give it a racialized connotation in the United States, not the historic use by the British in South Asia!

  22. 22
    closetpuritan says:

    Related to Abbe @21′s comment, it seems like “thug” has become a much more racialized term in recent years. Up until the Trayvon Martin case (when a LOT of people on Zimmerman’s “side” were calling Martin a “thug”), I didn’t think of it as particularly racialized. Which is not to say that that’s when it started being racialized–I’m not likely to be the first to notice because A) I’m white and B) I’m not exactly the first to know about new developments in pop culture.

  23. 23
    Tristan says:

    Interesting side note: You can vote here:

    http://www.tmz.com/2014/02/01/stars-and-scars-you-be-the-judge/

    as to whether you think Justin Bieber is a thug or not (most say yes). I guess the alternative is that he’s too silly looking to be a thug.

    And here’s Fox News calling him a thug:

    http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/on-the-record/2014/01/25/greta-im-sorry-richard-sherman-biebers-real-thug

    I’m not sure who is calling him a “misguided young man”. If someone is, it’s probably because you can’t take him seriously – a real thug inspires fear; Bieber inspires laughter.

  24. 24
    RonF says:

    What’s happening here is that we are declaring the “neutral” position to be “not racist”. We’re privileging the non-black position as the one that is “neutral”,

    I’m not clear on what you mean by “neutral position”. What are the alternatives here?

    and demanding that black people, and their allies, prove that racism happens.

    No. No one is asking to you prove that racism happens. What you are being asked to prove is that a particular instance of the application of the word “thug” means that the word “thug” is now a racist term instead of one that is used to describe a set of behaviors regardless of race.

    This is one of the ways that racism works! Not only do black people have to suffer from racism, but they they are held to a ridiculously high standard of proof before their experiences of racism are believed!

    Show me how the standard of proof is “ridiculously high”. You’re offering an opinion, which you’re welcome to do, but that does not constitute proof.

    I’m finding those links you offer to support your assertions pretty weak. The Salon article appeared to contrast the reaction to Brandi Chastain’s pulling off her top upon winning the 1999 Women’s World Cup with the 2000 Olympic men’s 4 x 100 relay team similar behavior being condemned. Yes, Brandi’s action landed her on the cover of Newsweek. An attractive woman celebrity pulls her top off and she lands on the cover of a magazine, but attractive male celebrities do the same and they don’t. What a shock. Sexist? That’s another issue, but no surprise. And what that author completely ignores is that Brandi Chastain was ALSO roundly condemned for that action by many people as well, just as many people completely ignored the black males pulling their shirts off and didn’t condemn them.

    It also complains that Serena Williams was called a thug for arguing with an umpire. That is an incredibly misleading comment. The actual report states that she advanced on the line judge in a physically threatening manner, shook her racquet at her, thrust a ball in her face and was reported by the line judge to have said “If I could, I would take this ******* ball and shove it down your ******* throat.” My wife plays tennis and we watch a fair amount. Suffice it to say that this is behavior far outside the norm of “arguing with an umpire”, and calling her out for acting like a thug seems to fit what happened to me.

    Charging someone with racism is a pretty severe thing to say. To say that racism exists is not controversial. But if you want people to believe that a particular act or person is racist you have to have proof. You can’t just assert it and expect to be believed. And what you offer as proof should not be incomplete or grossly slanted.

  25. 25
    Ampersand says:

    But Ron, NO ONE has been called a thug as much (in one day on national TV) as this one black man was, and he did nothing even remotely thuggish. The “that’s just a big coincidence” approach doesn’t seem plausible as an explanation for that.

    Also, a lot of it comes down to not what celebrities are called, but to the day-to-day lived experiences of Black people. If a lot of Black people say that “thug” is being used against Black people in a certain way, the truth of that claim is not something we can measure quantitatively. At some point, either you’re willing to listen to Black people, or you’re not.

  26. 26
    JutGory says:

    Kate @16: “That is a false equivalency.”

    No. g&w solicited examples for sake of comparison. I gave him an example that was in the same sport, regarding a white guy, during the same season. I offered no commentary about the comparison and drew no conclusions from it.

    Ampersand @ 19: “Jut, your example proves how racist the use of “thug” is in US culture.”

    I do not see how that is the case. Giving an example of a white guy getting called a “thug” is proof that “thug” is a code word applied to black people. No. But, I think this is what you meant:

    Amp @19: “White men get called thugs for acting like thugs. Black men get called thugs for not acting deferential.”

    But, that is true about any racist standard. It is not unique to “thug.” That is: “thug” is not racist, but may be applied in a racist fashion.

    For what it’s worth (not much, I know), I did not think his behavior was “thuggish” (and when you talk about how much that word was used on TV, much of what I saw was a debate about whether the term applied-not a wholesale approval of its accuracy), so much as I thought it was obnoxious, poor winner, etc.

    One thing that did throw me for a moment, though, was the “choke” sign he made. There was a bit of controversy a few years back when the NFL banned the “throat-slashing” gesture as too violent (or something). When he did the “choke” sign, I think my immediate reaction was an association with the throat-slashing sign (which could be described as a “thuggish” gesture, I suppose). It took me a few seconds to connect the sign to “choke,” which is a pretty common taunt in many sports. There is no suggestion of violence in it. But, I would not be surprised if other people associated the “choke” sign with violence and that the association contributed, to some extent, to the “thug” comments.

    -Jut

  27. 27
    JutGory says:

    Jut @26:

    Amp @19 did say: “how racist the use of “thug” is”

    Use of! You idiot!

    Now, in fairness, the discussion was not about how ” thug” is used like the new N-Word. So, there was a little bit of bait-and-switch on Amp’s part.

    But, you are still an idiot!

    -Jut

  28. 28
    RonF says:

    UAW imports anti-worker thuggery to Tennessee

    Leaving aside the content, which you may or may not agree with, here’s an indication that the word is commonly used in a completely non-racial context.

  29. 29
    RonF says:

    If a lot of Black people say that “thug” is being used against Black people in a certain way, the truth of that claim is not something we can measure quantitatively. At some point, either you’re willing to listen to Black people, or you’re not.

    I’m willing to listen to black people. But I’m not willing to accept that a few black people represent black people any more than a few gays represent gays or a few women represent women. I can point to millions of women who oppose abortion on demand. That doesn’t make them representative of the experience women as a whole.

    Richard Sherman did something very unusual – he gave an honest reaction to a question when he was in a highly emotional state while on camera. It was great television, with both fantastic video and audio, it was brief, and in this day of Twitter and Facebook and a 24 x 7 news cycle and athletic celebrity it spread like wildfire and a lot of people commented on it. A still picture of, say, Justin Beiber and a report that he yelled at a cop or hired some prostitutes or some politician denying that he did something doesn’t attract nearly the same attention because there’s no audio and no video, and he’s not nearly of the moment as a top athlete celebrating the triumph of getting to the Super Bowl. So of course it’s going to be more widespread; which is why that measurement of “thug” in captions really doesn’t mean much.

  30. 30
    Ampersand says:

    Leaving aside the content, which you may or may not agree with, here’s an indication that the word is commonly used in a completely non-racial context.

    No one is denying that Ron. The word “boy” is commonly used in non-racial contexts all the time, too, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be used in a racist way.

  31. 31
    Abbe Faria says:

    I have very little knowledge of US culture. But it is obvious that thug is racialized just from a glance at books which use the word thug, rather than an generic insult like ‘lout’ it is more a group self-description like ‘skinhead’.

    Given the racial association seems to have been created when the word was actively adopted by elements of African-American culture, this is very different from your usual racial slur like ‘boy’. I’m not denying there are racists, but there is also a real thug culture and there are people who have good reason to be worried about it.

  32. 32
    kate says:

    @ Abbe Faria
    But the thug label is increasingly being applied to black men and boys, like Richard Sherman and Trayvon Martin, who have nothing to do with that culture and have done nothing criminal. That labeling is being done primarily by white people.