By chance I watched last weekend’s NFL playoff games at the home of a friend and former college football player, Vaughn McKoy. My family went to the Rutgers University women’s basketball game against hoops powerhouse University of Connecticut on the Rutgers campus, where Vaughn played, and my daughter sent a text message to his daughter. The two girls once played together on an AAU basketball squad. The McKoy family happened to be at the game. The families wound up having an impromptu but long overdue get together that allowed Vaughn and me to take in the games. While both games were exciting it was Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman who stole the show. His now infamous post-game interview with ESPN’s Erin Andrews set the Internet on fire as a debate ensued over the appropriateness of Sherman’s comments after he made a game winning play. For two Black men watching the game it was one of those moments when few words needed to be spoken.
I can’t express how much I loved Sherman’s passion and defiance. Here was a young Black man who takes extreme pride in his craft, works hard to master the task he is assigned, and is unafraid to proclaim himself the best at what he does. Sherman’s post-game proclamation was vintage Muhammad Ali. And like the boxing legend, the young Seattle defensive star is taking hits not for his play but because he has enough self-confidence to proclaim himself the best. When Donald Trump does it he’s called confident; a genius. When Richard Sherman does it he is belittled as an arrogant n*gg*r.
The criticism of Sherman has been patently racist and in some instances, simply ignorant. Here is a professional athlete, at the top of his game who forewarned that the opposition could not make a play on him. In his interview with ESPN’s Andrews, who by the way defended Sherman, he did not use foul language or use an obscene gesture but simply made it clear that he was better than his opponent. I thought that’s what athletic competition was about. Channeling “the Greatest,” the Seahawk did not back down from his prior proclamations that the receiver in question, San Francisco’s Michael Crabtree, was mediocre. Now, one can debate whether that charge is legitimate but you can’t dispute the fact that Sherman lived up to his bravado.
This episode is just another reminder that society likes its Black men docile, silent and intimidated. Sherman’s real offense is that he violated the social norm in America. How dare this young Black man proclaim himself the best!!! How arrogant that Sherman did not act more “gracefully” in victory and more diplomatically in his response!!! There would have been no “chatter” about Sherman had he responded in a more subdued manner. In fact, he would have been hailed as a “model” athlete, as someone worthy of adulation and emulation by youth. Instead, this bright, articulate and intelligent Stanford grad is attacked because he wasn’t Negro enough.
When Black men flex society gets scared. We are not supposed to be intelligent and confident enough to recognize our own value. We are expected to be subservient and to show deference to everyone; particularly those who theoretically exercise political or economic control over us; whether they are white or look like us. It is the residual residue of an era when we had to walk with heads lowered at the sight of a white person and dared not make eye contact. Richard Sherman held his head high and had his eyes trained on America and let the country know he knows how good he is. It was one of the most refreshing moments of television I have viewed in ages.
Black men who flex have always upset the nation’s equilibrium. It was the defiance of Robeson, King, Malcolm, Huey, Elijah and Stokely that frightened America; more so than their claims against the nation. It is one thing to be great, it is quite another to know it and to not be diminished in your greatness by the insecurities of others. Black boys are demoralized in school buildings and scarce in the classroom. Black boys are emboldened by criminality and disproportionately behind prison bars. The same boldness that is evident among Black boys in prisons is crushed when they are in the classroom. Society takes great pleasure in emasculating Black males. I have seen it in the way Black men in executive positions in corporations and not-for-profit organizations cower and meekly subscribe to actions that further marginalize the masses. Many Black men have accepted their role to be barely seen and not heard.
Richard Sherman in one glorious unrehearsed moment of defiance exhaled for many of us. What a different nation we would be if more Black men felt free enough to claim their greatness; free enough to speak their mind; and bold enough to care less what others thought. I’ll take Richard Sherman on my team any day.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.