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The real issue with the Richard Sherman interview is that (a) contextually he basically just had sex and (b) he’s black

Been a million theories on this one (1, 2, 3) and Richard Sherman has weighed in on it himself, so this doesn’t need to be a really long post or anything. Let’s keep it simple.

1. Dopamine. The media loves to talk about it, for sure, and we don’t completely know how it works, but here’s one interesting thing via Cosmo (this might be the only article on the Internet linking Richard Sherman and Cosmo, which is a small badge of honor): guys’ dopamine levels get accelerated during sex (more here and scientifically speaking, here). Guys’ dopamine levels also get accelerated during athletics, and specifically during high-level athletics. Richard Sherman, about two to three real-time minutes before his interview, had just batted down a pass — on only his second target of the game — to send Seattle to their first Super Bowl in nine years. That’s high-level. Essentially, he just had sex, or — depending on the dopamine transmission in his body (this is a bit weak on the science side, but bear with me) — he was in the throes of sex/the post-coital glow. (Probably helped that about 70K people were yelling his name, too.) You ever interacted with a guy in that context? They can be the most loving, tender, cry-at-the-Jen-Aniston movie person in the world, and every so often you’re gonna hear some crazy-ass stuff out of them, be it dirty or weird or over-the-top intense. That’s basically where Richard Sherman was, brain chemistry-wise. It happens.

2. Race. We can’t ever get away from this, just like we can’t get away from gender (to tie 1 and 2 together here, a bunch of academic researchers think women talking dirty in bed is hot to guys simply because women are raised to be ‘fairer’ and ‘more polite;’ one can’t escape gender or race without a deal being made of it). Deadspin wrote about the race issue, and did it better than I. Here’s a description of essentially what happened:

Millions of Americans took to their cell phones, to social media, to the bar patron next to them, to cluck at Sherman. We called him classless, a bad sportsman, a troll. We called him a monkey and a nigger. We threatened his life. We said that he set black people and race relations back 30, 50, 100 years.

Concur. The only thing in the last 12 months to dominate my Facebook/Twitter feeds so completely was the ending of Auburn-Alabama this year.

Because in that moment, Sherman—a singular kid from Compton who won both the athletic and intellectual lottery so completely, so authoritatively, that he spent three years playing on Stanford’s football team at wide receiver before converting to defensive back and becoming the NFL’s best at the position—was in the public eye. In that moment, whether he knew, cared, or neither, Richard Sherman, a public figure, became a proxy for the black male id.

Agree with the above, and it’s ridiculous. Richard Sherman just did something that maybe 10-11 people ever have done in his sport: he made a play that secured a trip to the Super Bowl. He’s allowed to go off a little bit. Now maybe FOX should wait a second before the post-game interview, toss it back to Curt Menefee before going to Erin Andrews, but … that’s not how TV, and especially sports TV (the biggest thing saving network and cable from Tivo and streaming) is supposed to work. Rather, it’s supposed to be live and in your face. But when the person being live and in your face is black, that’s an issue.

When you’re a public figure, there are rules. Here’s one: A public personality can be black, talented, or arrogant, but he can’t be any more than two of these traits at a time. It’s why antics and soundbites from guys like Brett Favre, Johnny Football and Bryce Harper seem almost hyper-American, capable of capturing the country’s imagination, but black superstars like Sherman, Floyd Mayweather, and Cam Newton are seen as polarizing, as selfish, as glory boys, as distasteful and perhaps offensive. It’s why we recoil at Kanye West’s rants, like when West, one of the greatest musical minds of our generation, had the audacity to publicly declare himself a genius (was this up for debate?), and partly why, over the six years of Barack Obama’s presidency, a noisy, obstreperous wing of the GOP has seemed perpetually on the cusp of calling him “uppity.” Barry Bonds at his peak was black, talented, and arrogant; he was a problem for America. Joe Louis was black, talented, and at least outwardly humble; he was “a credit to his race, the human race,” as Jimmy Cannon once wrote.

Kind of ironic that this whole thing happened about 2 hours, on the east coast, before MLK Day officially began, no?

If Richard Sherman was white — basically, if Johnny Manziel someday becomes a CB and does something equivalent — is this the same issue? Probably not. It’s a useless question because Richard Sherman is black, and the situation is done, so … we can’t suddenly make him white. But for context’s sake, it likely would be very different.

Here’s a comparison point that’s a bit small, but still: Mike Zimmer (new head coach of the Vikings, former Bengals DC) dropped a ton of F-Bombs on Hard Knocks a couple of years ago talking about Bobby Petrino. He was revered for it! He’s white.

And here’s some good stuff, as ever, from The Atlantic:

I don’t think this is what people think when they see Sherman trash-talking. There’s some weird notion in our society  that holds that trash-talking is for the classless and stupid. I don’t know what it means to be “classless” in an organization like the NFL. And then there is the racism from onlookers, who are incapable of perceiving in Sherman an individual, and instead see the sum of all American fears–monkey, thug, terrorist, nigger.

That’s a good point to end on. The NFL basically is deeply institutionalized violence. Men do it for 10 years and then spend 40-70 barely being able to get up (a stereotype, but an often true one). It became largely popular, in part, because of gambling and other vices associated with it (and on the Lord’s Day!). It rewards the crassest people there — think T.O. in his heyday — with the most airtime and features. Where exactly is the “classless” line in such an org? And how did Richard Sherman, a star athlete living in a big moment, somehow come to represent crossing it?

Ted Bauer

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