First, let’s make something clear: Richard Sherman is not a thug (ie., “a cruel or vicious ruffian, robber, or murderer”).
By now, even if you’re a nominal sports fan, you’ve probably seen the interview heard ’round the world in which Richard Sherman, who is a defensive back for the Super Bowl-bound Seattle Seahawks, proclaimed himself “the best corner in the game” (which is true), calling San Francisco 49ers Wide Receiver Michael Crabtree a “sorry receiver.” You can see the short interview below.
Pretty much as soon as Sherman’s interview hit the airwaves (which was cut short because Fox didn’t know what to do with a man who was being so authentic), people were taking to the internet to call him out for his silly antics. That his antics were silly cannot be denied; yet it seems that many people wanted to take it beyond that, with the harshest refrain proclaiming that Richard Sherman is an ignorant thug.
Let’s call this label for what it is, however: a loud, black man with dreadlocks can only be a thug in many people’s minds (which is a discussion for another time). Nevermind the fact that Sherman is actually a very intelligent man, who graduated from his high school as the Salutatorian of his class (with a 4.2 GPA), with a degree – and already working towards another – from Stanford University, who has never committed a crime. I believe the outrage stems from a more foundational – yet subtle – reality (and it’s not racism, though that is certainly in play).
I believe the outrage is because Richard Sherman said to the world what we would only dare say to ourselves. At the core, there is a Richard Sherman in all of us. We are all selfish, proud, arrogant, self-centered creatures who think more highly of ourselves than others. And yet when we see it on full display on television, we are embarrassed for him – not because his sentiments are so outlandish but because they are so familiar.
The irony is that we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking that Richard Sherman’s behavior is the antithesis to what it means to be a good “sport.” We think his antics contradict competitive sports at their foundational level. Yet competitive sports at their most basic level are predicated upon exerting one’s self in mastery over another; of striving to be better than one’s opponent, often achieved by believing that you are, in fact, better than your opponent.
We don’t watch because sports are the bastion of cooperation and other-centeredness. We are attracted to them because we get to experience – vicariously – one side conquering another, exerting one’s interests over another’s. That football, in particular, uses physical – and, let’s call it for what it is: “violent” – force to achieve this makes it all the more irresistible (there’s a reason why flag-football does not have the same appeal that tackle-football does). It follows selfishness and the craving for domination to its logical conclusion.
And yet, when Richard Sherman expresses sentiments that epitomize the essence of sports, we all cry “foul.” We do so because we want our barbarians to be more subtle in their egotism; more sophisticated in their self-centeredness. After all, we’ve mastered the way of masking our own selfishness and pride; we have learned how to hide what resides deep down within our hearts. And Richard Sherman should do the same.
But I applaud Richard Sherman for being publicly who we all are privately: sinful, selfish, arrogant creatures (and for revealing the true essence of competitive sports). I applaud him not because there’s any virtue in being these things, but because in him we are able to see ourselves and thus perhaps turn to the Divine Physician who can cure what ails us.
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:3-8).