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Race and Richard Sherman


A last point on Richard Sherman, from Greg Howard, who places the reaction to Sherman in the context of American racial tropes:

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.

All this is based on the common, very American belief that black males must know their place, and more tellingly, that their place is somewhere different than that of whites. It’s been etched into our cultural fabric that to act as anything but a loud, yet harmless buffoon or an immensely powerful, yet humble servant is overstepping. It’s uppity. It is, as Fox Sports’s Kayla Knapp tweeted last night, petrifying.

What I find interesting about the debate is how some of the people criticizing Sherman, even on this blog, are reinforcing a whole history of racial discourse around black athletes and entertainers.

Zirin has similar points.

I also believe that Richard Sherman is on the same trajectory as Charles Barkley. Today one of sports’ most beloved media figures, it’s easy to forget just how loathed Barkley was during his career. There was the incident where he spat on a fan. There was the unnecessary elbow to the Angolan player during the 92 Olympics. His remarks that he wasn’t responsible to the public for his behavior because athletes shouldn’t be role models. But of course Barkley was incredibly smart and managed to transition into a media figure, almost without anyone expecting it. Sherman is much more self-conscious about his post-playing career and since he already has a regular column at Sports Illustrated and is very smart and charismatic himself, he’ll almost certainly be a talking head after retirement from the field.

…One more link. Andrew Hartman compares the reaction to Sherman to the reaction against 2 Live Crew in the late 80s.

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