I did not and do not believe Richard Sherman is a thug. He is a Stanford graduate, a young man who had straight A's in high school while insisting on taking advance placement classes, and after coming into Stanford as a wide receiver (one of the "glamor" positions in football, he ASKED to switch to defensive back.
I did know much about the man (such as the info above) aside from his age (24) and his position as one of the best corner backs in the game, and also one of the best trash talkers in the game. I figured that his comments to Erin Andrews after the game were partly his youth, and mostly that he had just helped his team reach the Super Bowl with an outstanding defensive play against one of the best wide receivers in football.
But then the backlash started - almost immediately - so I began to look for more info about Sherman.
NPR did a piece on Sherman, as did Forbes in their 22 Brief Thoughts about that Richard Sherman Interview, including this:
4. Sherman graduated second in his class in high school and also graduated from Stanford. So not only is he not a fool, odds are he’s smarter than you and me.CBS News offered another bit of information courtesy of NFL Films, who had Sherman miked for the game:
5. His degree from Stanford was in communications … which might explain why, while he seemed to be hollering like a crazy person, he didn’t curse and looked into the camera the whole time.
6. In other words, he might have just been auditioning for the WWE.
Wednesday night, NFL Films showed a much different Sherman, who was mic'd up during the game. With seconds left in the fourth quarter, he made the game-saving tip in the end zone on a ball intended for Crabtree that was intercepted by Malcolm Smith. Moments later, Sherman found Crabtree and said, "Hell of a game. Hell of a game," while extending his hand.
Here was Crabtree's response:
Sherman says 'good game,' Crabtree gives him the Heisman treatment. (USATSI)Perhaps Will Leitch at USA Today offered the best story. This is how that article begins:
Reality squares with Sherman's account, which he wrote about Monday for TheMMQB.com:
"I ran over to Crabtree to shake his hand but he ignored me. I patted him, stuck out my hand and said, 'Good game, good game.' That's when he shoved my face, and that's when I went off," Sherman said.
Richard Sherman is everything one could want in a professional athlete. He is a walking example of the difference sports can make, of how one man can channel fierce intelligence and an almost frightening competitive fire into something productive and riveting. He is precisely the type of person you should cheer for.Finally, Sociological Images takes a rather disturbing look at the Twitter storm or racist bigotry that erupted within moments of Sherman's interview.
Sherman graduated from Compton's Dominguez High School with straight-A grades -- better than straight-A grades, actually, thanks to all the advanced placement classes he insisted on taking. Raised by a father who works as a garbage man and a mother who teaches disabled children, Sherman chose to go to Stanford to play football because of its academic reputation. His charity, Blanket Coverage, is impressively specific: It focuses solely on providing school supplies for inner-city kids, making sure they have the most updated textbooks and materials. Unheralded by the pros after he requested, before his junior year, to be moved from the glamour position of wide receiver to cornerback, he has worked his way into one of the best corners by force of will. The man is a state of matter. He is absurdly smart. He is an inspiration. (Most of these details taken from this terrific Jon Wilner story in the San Jose Mercury News from September.)
Richard Sherman Responds to Being Called a “Thug”
Immediately after the Seattle Seahawks beat the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Richard Sherman gave an intense, boastful post-game interview. This triggered the always-present racism, as illustrated by many tweets that followed. Here is just a sample from Public Shaming:
These are obviously cruel and full of hate, but the ones in which he was called a “thug” got somewhat less attention:
In interviews about the racist response, Sherman made some really nice points about what this means about the state of America and the specifically racial insults. In a press conference, for example, asked about being called a “thug,” he argued that it’s just “the accepted way of calling someone the n-word these days.” He points out that, in no way was what he was doing thug-like:
Maybe I’m talking loudly, and doing something… talking like I’m not supposed to, but I’m not… there’s a hockey game where they didn’t even play hockey, they just threw the puck aside and started fighting. I saw that and I said, “Aw man, I’m the thug? What!? What’s going on here?”
In another video, he expands on this point, saying: “I’m not out there beating on people, or committing crimes, or getting arrested, or doing anything; I’m playing a football game at a high level and I got excited.”
Sherman’s making two points. First, that there was nothing thug-like about his behavior. Thugs are violent criminals. He’s just playing a game. And, second, the term is decidedly racial, applied to him largely because of the color of his skin. Meanwhile, hockey players, who are overwhelmingly white, as well as other white athletes, don’t as often get these sorts of labels even if they are physically violent in ways that exceed the demands of their sport.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.