There was a moment in the NFL version of the Hatfields and McCoys that could have ended the blood feud. It came at the end of the game Sunday, after Seattle’s Richard Sherman batted a pass intended for San Francisco’s Michael Crabtree into the arms of a teammate, causing an interception that sealed the victory for the Seahawks, sending them to the Super Bowl.
Sherman walked over to Crabtree with his arm extended as a show of come-togetherness, but Crabtree pushed the defender’s helmet hard. So goes the way of the most heated and hated rivalry in sports today.
It was this emotion, that shunning of sportsmanship, that was still ringing in the 24-year-old’s helmet when he walked off the field and onto national television to call Crabtree sorry and he later added mediocre.
It was the face of Sherman and his dark skin and flailing dreads that had some people take to Twitter to call Sherman a thug and a n–ger.
From behind a computer keyboard and a 140-character-limit wielded by the hands of the ignorant, a Stanford graduate was assaulted with some of the most troubling words in the American lexicon.
This is the battle and the passion and the ugliness of American history played out in violent sport, rolled into a sound bite and then released into the Internet-mosphere. It is a Twitter-sized snapshot of the trouble that white America has with an outspoken black athlete. It was a moment that captured both the hate that the Seahawks and 49ers have for one another on the field and, more importantly, the deep-rooted hate some feel when a black man speaks freely about his legacy.
Sherman’s behavior and verbiage was succinct and efficient, but it wasn’t even remotely thuggish. He didn’t do anything even remotely aggressive. If anything, his loud and egotistical rant was much more WWE than NWA.
It was typical-football-Sherman, which has never been, nor will ever be, what is expected. The Twitter response was more telling about how far we haven’t come as a nation, on the heels of the birthday of a man who dreamed more for us.
Sherman is brash, bold and brutal, all traits that make him one of the best cover corners in the NFL and make people in white America uncomfortable.
America has always been comfortable with the humble, wide-eyed, awe-shucks athlete.
But an athlete who is fully aware of his abilities, who doesn’t shy away from criticism, who adores not only the spotlight but relishes it is a newer breed in the sport, and it is time for historically buttoned-up institutions like the NFL and its hordes of fans to make room for them.
Sherman frequently talks with high school students about making good decisions in life and recently launched Blanket Coverage, The Richard Sherman Family Foundation, which helps kids get school supplies and clothes.
But people find it easy to take shots on Twitter, and to use racial slurs and bullying language far worse than what you’ll see from me. It’s sad and somewhat unbelievable to me that the world is still this way, but it is.
If being a thug means being salutatorian of your high school with a 4.2 GPA and 1,400 SAT scores, graduating from Stanford, delivering on your promise of greatness and showing no ability to humble-brag – then the black community could use more thugs like Sherman.