American Racism and the Backlash against Richard Sherman


At times, I tend to think that it is like eating meat. Anyone who thinks about it and looks into it will realize that it is cruel and not ideal, but can anyone honestly hope for a scenario in which it does not exist?

Careers have been destroyed publicly over a racist remark, and I am sure some careers have been made in private over the same. Racism is something that the media focuses on, with everyone except for perhaps Fox News and certain AM radio stations in consensus that we should tread lightly when applying adjectives and metaphors to a whole race. This has resulted in the creation of an entire subgenre of media-about-media. The Daily Show spends a great deal of its time poking fun at how out-of-touch media outlets like Fox News are, but they are not the only ones.

It is also timely to talk about race. The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was last week, and the sites that I frequent all had stories relating to the holiday, giving the hot-button issue even more focus.

The Racist Image
The idea of writing about race has been on my mind for a while, but the thing that pushed this article to the front of the list was coming across an image on Facebook that I found offensive. Here is what I saw:


I consider this to be a prime example of racism, even though I know that many will disagree, and I only need to look at the comments in order to see who some of those people are. Upon coming across the image, I brought it up to a friend, and he told me that he did not consider the image to be racist, that the image was poking fun of a man’s nostrils, that people of all races have big nostrils, and that there was really no article here. In response, I said that it would be like making fun of an Asian person’s eyes (full disclosure: I am half Japanese). That was pretty much the extent of our conversation, but it was enough to make it clear to me that not everyone would consider the image to be racist. It was enough to force me to ask myself: Does my seeing racism in this image say more about me or about the image?

Anyone who follows professional American football can readily see the relevance of the image, but those who do not will not know what this is all about, and they may think that someone just chose to pick on a football player with large, flared nostrils. Not so.

Last week, Richard Sherman, the player pictured, was the subject of a great deal of media attention, perhaps the most since Miley Cyrus astounded us with her twerking. It was all related to a rant that Sherman had after making a game-winning play against the 49ers, blocking a touchdown pass thrown by the at-the-time-interception-prone 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, and sending the Niners home and the Seahawks to the Super Bowl. After the play, there was a brief skirmish between Sherman and Micheal Crabtree, the receiver he had just blocked, with Crabtree shoving Sherman in the helmet. Sherman did not retaliate at the time.  Following this, he was interviewed by Erin Andrews. Sherman was clearly upset. The interview went as follows:

Andrews: “Thank you so much. Let me ask you, this final play, take me through it.”

Sherman (heated): “Well I’m the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get. Don’t you ever talk about me.”

Andrews: “Who was talking about you?”

Sherman: “Crabtree. Don’t you ever talk about the best, or I’m going to shut it for you real quick. LOB.”

At this point, it seems that Andrews was attempting to ask another question, and Sherman ended the interview, probably by walking away. For those who don’t know, LOB stands for Legion of Boom, a nickname for the Seattle Seahawks.

For those who have not seen it, the interview can be seen here.

Richard Sherman
Richard Sherman’s actual life story is one of defying odds. A self-described nerd who enjoys the History Channel and Animal Planet, he was able to move from Compton to Stanford University, from Stanford to the NFL in the 5th round, from there to a starting position, and now to the Superbowl as one of the best cornerbacks in the game. He graduated from Stanford with a 3.9 GPA, a few points above the author of this article. In an interview given for CNN, Sherman states:

“I’ve always been a square, a nerd. Kind of odd, kind of awkward. I still am to this day. People just think I’m a lot cooler ’cause I play football.”

No, Sherman is not a thug, but those who know him only from the infamous interview would think differently. So, why the thuggish rant?

A couple of days after the game, video was released that told the whole story. Thanks to the fact that Sherman was wearing a mic during the game, we can hear exactly what happened. After the play, Sherman had approached Crabtree in an act of goodwill, holding out his hand and saying “Hell of a game! Hell of a game!” Clearly, Sherman was saying it as loud as he could to try to overcome the din of the cheering crowd. Crabtree’s response was to shove Sherman in the helmet. Sherman’s behavior during the interview was the result of his attempt at sportsmanship being rebuffed by Crabtree. The video can be seen here.

Unfortunately, this is not what the millions of viewers saw and heard at the time of the game, which brings the whole episode, viral picture included, into perspective.

The Picture, Again
It was in this context that the picture went viral. The following is a screenshot of what I saw. Last names have been erased except for first initials, even though, theoretically, if a person did not think it was racist, they would not mind having their name attached to it in writing. A larger view can be seen by clicking on the image.


At this point, the image had nearly 82,000 likes, 24,000 shares, and over 6,000 comments.

The comments are clearly split, and people of different races commented also. There is no trace of racism in the top comments. The number of the comment is in parentheses.

Marc C (1): I laughed so hard that I shot tea out of my “oo.”

Ryan H (2): I got 99 problems & breathing aint one.

Jim D (3): You gotta admit, this man has a certain flare about him.

Jesse N (6): Considering his GPA at Stanford, and the way he’s calculated his ascension into the media spotlight by being brash, he’s probably smarter than Google.

Christian B (20): Do you think he snorts his fried chicken?

There are protests that the photo is not racist, some by black people, some by white people, but it is unclear who these protests are against, because the protests did not make the top comments. Presumably, Micheal B, whose name is at the top of the thread, did not think so, commenting: “Whoever did this is [sic] aweful. Don’t laugh.”

When seen in context, I think the picture can be seen for what it really is. If it were just an image making fun of a man’s nostrils, it would not have gone viral. I believe that it is precisely because the image is poking fun at a black man who went on a tirade  that the image went viral. It is evidence that we in America still fear an “angry black man.” By poking fun, defacing and shaming him, we show on the surface that we are not afraid, but the fact of our needing to express it is, to my mind, evidence of a deeper fear and misunderstanding. It is racism, but in a different form.

Speaking later in an interview with CNN Sherman expressed regret for his behavior:

“And that was immature and I probably shouldn’t have done that. I regret doing that.”

Still, he was stunned by the response to the interview, saying:

“It was really mind-boggling the way the world reacted.”

There is perhaps a lot about the world that Sherman — despite his world-class education — could learn. I think that holds for us all.

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