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The exploitation of Richard Sherman
I love Richard Sherman. And I loved him even more after I watched his 30-seconds that made him an instant-trend on Twitter. His postgame interview was so eccentric, so passionate, so real, I couldn’t help but relate to it.
I got love for Peyton Manning too, and I think he’ll go down as the greatest QB of this era if he wins the Super Bowl in a few weeks (better than Brady that is). But Sherman was so compelling to me on his postgame interview, I had to spread my love to Seattle too.
In case you haven’t seen the dramatic interview, here's the transcript (thanks Buzzfeed):
“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.” “Who was talking about you?” “Crabtree. Don’t you open your mouth about the best. Or I’m gonna shut it for you real quick. L-O-B. [Legion of Boom, Seattle's legendary secondary]”
I was amazed when I viewed the YouTube clip (the NFL's pulled it). It’s just 30 seconds long and it generated hours and inches of content the next day. I can’t believe how much controversy it stirred. Say what you will about trash talk and how it damages sportsmanship, but you are delusional if you think it doesn’t happen off the field all the time.
So when Sherman gets interviewed by a reporter right after he deflects a pass that sends his never-been-to-the-Super-Bowl team in front of the loudest fans in the NFL, what do you think is going to happen? He got a little hype. To me? That’s a totally normal reaction. He’s not going to be stoic and composed. How could you be?
I’m not sure his words about Michael Crabtree, even if Crabtree tried to start a fight with him or spoke negatively about him in the previous week, are as honoring as they should be. But they are reactionary, and we are only human beings. I don’t think Crabtree’s push of Sherman was very honoring either (nor were his words after the game that belittled Sherman’s accomplishment).
Of course, much of the Twitter criticism (which Internet anonymity makes almost useless) focused on Sherman’s race and stereotypes of black people. Race colors this whole discussion, and there’s no way we can remove it. In the article I just linked, Sherman says he’s much more than what the reporter caught, and of course he is. But leave it to the media that lives for such stories to exploit them even further. You can see such (and a few decent points) in the Forbes article that was all over Facebook the next day.
The media conveniently forgets though, that Sherman has an amazing story about overcoming odds and succeeding despite racism and oppression that surrounds him. Turns out Sherman was straight out of Compton and ended up being a Stanford graduate who started his own non-profit. But you don't hear about that. You don't hear about the fact that he's never been arrested. And mainly because that doesn't sell newspapers or tickets.
Roger Goodell’s product is a lucrative one (and ESPN's product is too). It’s nearly a 24/7/365 drama that captivates audiences throughout the entire United States. Sherman’s stunt? It’s part of it. And if you ask me, it’s entertaining and motivating, in some ways. After Eagles fans suffered under the indifference of Nnamdi Asomugha, we long for a passionate man like Sherman.
But make no bones about it, football (both professional and college, for that matter) is all about money. With greed and violence as its cornerstones, with a large dose of racism, it is so definitively American that almost no one should expect any different.
It’s not about good attitudes, sportsmanship, and good competition any more than the U.S. is about equality, justice, and liberty. That’s just poetic language to cover up the evil that’s corroding the inside of the system. Jesus couldn’t stand that hypocrisy. In fact, today, he might have said an eighth woe all about it.
The NFL is about producing a great product and every single message that the players receive centers on winning at all costs. When you entered the corporate world of professional capitalism, this is what you are signing up for. And if the most of the people taking and giving the most brutal and violent hits you’ve ever seen on TV are black? Well, for the elite that benefit from it’s really no skin off their back. It’s a new kind of slavery, honestly.
Say what you will, but the entertainers on the field are underpaid (relatively speaking, compared to the owners and ownership groups) and risk their lives and are predominantly black. There is a great deal of racism with how contracts are handles, players are perceived and stereotyped, and even lessons in leadership.
So for me, Sherman’s reaction is warranted (and totally normal for a cornerback, especially when trash-tracking a wide receiver). Even if you think it’s wrong, it isn’t the greatest evil that’s in the NFL. The NFL sets up players to compete this ruthlessly, to be this vitriolic, and competitive. We can’t herald the virtues of fair play and sportsmanship in a league that thrives on the dying capitalist model.
The thing you can’t expect from a godless institution is Godliness. When you’ve never promoted such virtue in the culture that surrounds your league, it’ll be hard to find God in it and certainly to feel entitled it.