Sherman’s march

There’s been lots of chatter about Richard Sherman’s especially animated postgame interview yesterday with Erin Andrews. Moments after his Seattle Seahawks punched their ticket to the Super Bowl, thanks at the end to a Sherman deflection that resulted in a game-clinching interception, the Stanford alum told Andrews: “well, I’m the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receive like Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get. Don’t you ever talk about me….Don’t you open your mouth about the best, or I’m going to shut it for you real quick.”

Sherman is very well-known both for his greatness on the field – he led the NFL in interceptions this year and is a defensive-player-of-the year candidate – and for his propensity to talk. He’s gotten into it with players and media members before, so this latest episode is nothing new in that regard. But given the stage and the particular vehemence with which he delivered his postgame remarks, it’s not surprising that the Andrews interview has sparked particular attention.

To get the predictable and especially lowlife stuff over first, plenty of folks on twitter descended into racist idiocy to attack Sherman for his remarks. These are worth noting, but not dwelling on – folks who author this sort of crap are what they are.

More generally, Sherman’s impassioned, in-your-face comments provided fodder for the latest iteration of one of sport’s oldest debates – about whether a different code of conduct exists for black athletes than white athletes. Broadly speaking the answer is an undeniable yes. Black athletes are more likely to be deemed selfish, prima donnas and so on than are white athletes. They are more heavily scrutinized for fathering kids outside of marriage, for trash talking and for evincing a bad attitude toward the media and so on. They are in a position that white athletes do not face – they are representing, so that their actions are understood not merely to reflect their own characters and personalities, but to embody that of black manhood in general. This sort of representation may have been constructed by a white dominated society. But African Americans internalize it as well. It’s this reality that could compel Andre Iguodala, of the Golden State Warriors, to tweet yesterday after Sherman’s rant that “We just got set back 500 years.” White athletes just don’t face those kinds of burdens. Reflecting on this context, Dave Zirin’s column today lamented the ugliness directed at Sherman after the game and predicted that for the next two weeks we’d get a non-stop and barely concealed racial narrative pitting the southern gentleman Peyton Manning against the angry black man, Sherman.

But I don’t know. The media environment is, in some basic ways, different in 2014. Sherman has spent the last six months writing for Peter King’s MMQB, certainly one of the most valuable pieces of NFL-related media real estate there is. In his column this morning, King said about Sherman’s post-game interview:

I’m not a big fan of belittling opponents, and neither, apparently, are you, because many of you on Twitter wanted Sherman drawn and quartered…..Now, when I saw what he said, my first reaction was: That’s why the NFL has a cooling-off period before allowing writers into locker rooms after games. In the five minutes before Sherman’s outburst to Andrews about how great he was and how worthless Michael Crabtree was, Sherman batted the potential game-winning pass into the arms of a teammate, winning the game for Seattle. He ran after Crabtree, said something, got flagged for taunting him. Then Crabtree pushed Sherman away by the facemask, and the Seahawks ran out the final 22 seconds of the game. Emotions were still high, and Andrews got Sherman to talk. He woofed to America the way he woofs on the field. As I said, it’s not how I would react. But he didn’t sugarcoat his opinions. We ask players for the truth all the time, and they so rarely give it to us that we’re shocked when they do.

Sherman himself had an opportunity to explain his mindset in his MMQB column this morning. He continued to criticize Crabtree – there is clearly a personal beef between them – but also explained that he actually initially tried to compliment Crabtree on a good game, before Crabtree shoved him. He also made plenty of time to credit his teammates for his own success, to praise opponents like Manning and the injured Navarro Bowman and to ask that he not be judged solely by what he said in the extraordinarily intense afterglow of an epic win. Jon Podhoretz is a right-wing columnist who was among the many to take to twitter to bash Sherman after the game. That’s not surprising and Zirin’s piece specifically called out Podhoretz for his initial response. But more interesting is that, after he read Sherman’s own column today, Podhoretz tweeted: “if Sherman’s account is accurate, then it’s yet another lesson for me to wait before talking trash on Twitter.” Podhoretz then linked to Sherman’s MMQB piece.

Colin Cowherd also spent several minutes at the beginning of his show today defending and, indeed, praising Sherman. First Cowherd noted that it was slightly ridiculous to stick a microphone in the face of a 25-year old athlete playing a “testosterone-fueled” sport moments after the game ended and give a “refined analysis” of what happened. Cowherd then affected a mock upper-crust British accent with classical music playing in the background to highlight the absurdity of what we expect from athletes in these postgame interviews. Cowherd noted several times what an extraordinary story Sherman was – from Compton to Stanford, he stuck around for an extra year there to take master’s classes after he’d already finished his undergraduate degree. Cowherd also suggested quite clearly – though he didn’t say this directly – a racial double standard at work. He pointed out for example that Wes Welker arguably engaged in an especially dirty play yesterday – a pick that knocked Patriots’ cornerback Aqib Talib out of the game. Cowherd asked several times why he wasn’t getting any emails or tweets about the “lack of class” of Welker.

He also reminded his audience several times that guys like Larry Bird used to talk trash all the time and no one seemed to complain about that. And like King, Cowherd noted that while sports media constantly complain about athletes who never say anything interesting, they like it even less when athletes do. Cowherd suggested that it was the media, himself included, who were to blame for the Sherman interview, not Sherman.

I know I’m coming across as pollyanna here – not my normal stance on these sorts of issues. But I really believe the response to Sherman would have been very different even five or seven years ago than it has been at least from some of the elite sports media I’ve heard from so far today. I know there have been lots of criticisms out there, but I’ve so far managed to catch hold of four responses – Zirin, King, Cowherd and (several on) Deadspin. They may not be representative. But collectively, they’ve got very large platforms and they’ve all come down very clearly either on Sherman’s side or at least on the side of putting his actions in a reasonable context. I count that as progress.

Update (January 21): a good quote from Priest Holmes, as part of a segment on Chris Hayes’ program last night, in which Holmes was complaining about the switch that players are supposed to flip as soon as the game is over:

“It’s like I have to become another person. It’s like I have become a warrior….then five minutes after the game ends, y’all are asking us questions about how did we feel and what did we think about this play and what’s it like to lose and we’re supposed to talk like none of that just happened.”

For the record, I’ve never been a fan of in-game or immediate post-game on-the-field interviews. They’re a gratuitous invasion of the coaches and players’ space when the last thing the participants want to be doing in those moments is explaining themselves in mindless little soundbites to the media. And of course, the league mandates these things, and fines the players and coaches who refuse to talk. It’s all a useless exercise that sheds no useful insight on what is happening or just happened.

Joe Posnanski, who got to know Holmes very well when Holmes played for Kansas City, offers similar reflections.

Like I said, the media environment has changed. Not completely. But notably.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s