Why Richard Sherman doesn’t get a “Pass”

ShermanMuch has been made about Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman’s rant after his team defeated the 49ers in last week’s hotly contested NFC Championship game.  Sherman made an athletic play to tip the ball to his teammate who then secured it for a game clenching interception against the 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree.   Sherman was seen taunting a dejected Crabtree after the play was over and continued his celebration by throwing up a choke sign towards the 49ers sideline.  Immediately after the game, Sherman was interviewed by well-known sports reporter Erin Andrews.   Sherman still excited about his big play, proceeded to shout into the camera about how great a player he was and how “sorry” of a receiver Michael Crabtree was.   Erin had a look of astonishment on her face as she struggled to continue her questioning.

The reaction to Sherman’s now infamous rant reverberated across national news outlets and social media.   My immediate reaction was one of disbelief that an athlete would go so far to disgrace another athlete on such a huge stage.  As a former football player, I’ve dished out my share of smack talk on the field but I always shook my opponent’s hand afterwards – whether in victory or defeat.  However, Richard Sherman decided that he would let out all of his frustrations and toss sportsmanship aside in an effort to further embarrass his opponent and shout to the world about his greatness.

I knew that Sherman had attended Stanford so I decided to google his bio and I was surprised to see that he graduated with a 4.2 GPA.  While I was impressed with his academic performance, I was also confounded about how a top Stanford student athlete could unleash such a vociferous and self- aggrandizing tirade on national TV.  His rant has been the central topic of discussion on sports blogs, Twitter, Facebook etc. with many supporters but mostly detractors referring to him as a thug.   Sherman responded by suggesting that the term “thug” was actually just a euphemism for the N-word.  I agree with him that the word “thug” when used to describe a black man is really just a code word — however, that doesn’t excuse his behavior or his antics.  When I saw him shouting into the camera, I didn’t see a Stanford grad with a 4.2 GPA, I saw a wannabe thug embarrassing himself on national TV.

Once the storm of criticism began to swell, many people began to make excuses for him by suggesting that he should get a pass because he made it out of Compton or because he was a great student at a renowned university.   Some have also said that he was just reacting in the heat of the moment, but his demeanor didn’t seem to change until he was forced to issue an apology by his head coach.  Since arriving in the NFL three years ago, Sherman has been known as a “hot head”, an agitator – someone who takes pleasure in disgracing his opponent.  So his post-game rant was really just an extension of his on field behavior.   I applaud the fact that he made it out of a rough neighborhood and became successful, but he’s not the first black man to ever beat the odds nor will he be the last.

I saw a Facebook post comparing Justin Beiber’s recent arrest and his past troubles with Richard Sherman’s tirade, suggesting that there’s a double standard when it comes to black people in the media.  It’s true, there’s always been a double standard!  But does that mean that we should lower our expectations of ourselves as a result?  No, it doesn’t.  Imagine if President Obama blamed his recent troubles regarding the NSA and Obamacare on the fact that he was black and came from a single parent household.  I personally believe that if he were a Republican, they would be carving out a monument for him on Mount Rushmore right next to Lincoln, Washington, Roosevelt and Jefferson as we speak.

Every man regardless of his race is accountable for his own behavior.  Yes, some black men are thugs.  Yes, some black men do commit more crimes than others and there may be socio-economic issues that are the root cause but for those like Richard Sherman there should be a higher standard.  That’s why I was so disappointed in his behavior, instead of portraying himself as a smart, fearless football player – he came across as just another thug, beating his chest and looking for personal attention in a team sport.

The real tragedy in his tirade was that instead of America talking about his personal story of overcoming the odds, being a role model and becoming a star cornerback in the NFL – all we heard about was the “thug” word, stereotypes about black athletes and double standards in the media.  I’m personally tired of hearing, “Oh that’s just how black people act.” It sounds like such a cop-out.   If I embarrass myself in front of my clients, I don’t expect them to treat me differently because I’m black – I have too much respect for myself to allow that type of thinking.

Perhaps we’ve come to accept a lower standard, sagging pants, grilled teeth, fatherless children and a lack of education seem to be in vogue.  I choose to hold myself to a higher standard and I expect those with the gifts and talents like Richard Sherman to do the same but maybe I’m just being hopeful and naïve because I still believe in the old mantra – Each one teach one.