Friday, January 24, 2014

On Richard Sherman and athletes talking about stuff

I didn't want to have to write a post about this because I was bored with this story within hours of it happening and I'd hoped people would have stopped talking about it by now. They (you) haven't so now I feel obligated to chime in. Here goes:
I'd like to think that I did not form an opinion of Richard Sherman and his character based on the brief "interview" with him conducted by Erin Andrews (who never even got her initial question answered) after the Seattle Seahawks defeated the San Francisco 49ers for a berth in the upcoming Super Bowl. Mostly because I'd like to believe I'm not the kind of person who would do that, but I'm only human and there's all that stuff about first impressions. I do remember watching the interview and saying, "Well, here's hoping you lose the Super Bowl" so maybe I'm guilty. Although I'm pretty sure that sentiment was motivated by the arrogance he was displaying and not his race or character. That's only because I like seeing arrogant people have to eat it and in the world of sports, there's no eating it like proclaiming yourself to be the best and then coming up short in the championship. Even then, the satisfaction would come from it being hilarious and there wouldn't be any anger or vitriol attached to it, and certainly not driven by anything to do with his race. Doing just cursory research on the guy (ie: Googling) reveals no shortage of news articles, interviews and profiles that all indicate that he's a very intelligent person with high moral character, and I'm genuinely pleased to know that. So I'm pretty sure I have exactly zero hard feelings toward Richard Sherman as an individual.
No, the only thing I come away from this with is a sense of disappointment that we can only expect two kinds of responses from athletes: bland, mindless cliches or grating, self-promoting "trash talk". And that makes me sad. You know the cliches:

  • I'm really proud of the way our guys hung in there. 
  • We were really on our game. 
  • We came to play. 
  • A win is a win.
  • It was a total team effort. 
  • I was just doing my job.

When athletes fall back on this kind of stuff, they're telling us absolutely nothing so there is literally no value whatsoever in hearing them speak. A lot of people who immediately came to Richard Sherman's defense said he he should get credit for being "real", even though what he said was actually a play on the biggest, most tiresome cliche of them all, the modern athlete and how he's not getting his due respect.
See, I'm a sports fan because for me, it's a form of entertainment. I don't expect athletes to raise the children or otherwise heal society. I appreciate it when they don't engage in actual criminal activity but I don't expect them to establish standards for how a human being should live a purpose-driven life. Either way, I don't begrudge them for the money they make. But is it too much to ask that intelligent, thought-out answers in interviews be among the higher standards (jump higher, run faster, throw harder, sign all the autographs, do work for charity) we hold our professional athletes to? I don't think it is. Erin Andrews asked him to take us through the key play that cemented the victory. I'd actually kind of like to hear his thoughts on that (it really was a spectacular play) but he didn't offer them. That's all I really wanted.
Granted, some people are more articulate than others and having a microphone or three thrust into your face within seconds of intense physical activity is weird for anyone. It's not realistic to expect a Robert Downey Jr. level of sophistication, charm and wit under sweaty circumstances like that. If anything, I'm more disappointed in us, fans and other ham-and-eggers who set the bar so low in terms of expectations than I am with those athletes who don't feel compelled to exceed them. We expect all of these people to be role models for kids but we don't expect them to string together a couple of original thoughts? Seems like a disconnect there to me.
I also understand my concern pales significantly to the question that this issue supposedly brings to light, that being a discussion we need to have about how we perceive successful and confident/arrogant black men. After all, the word "thug" was apparently uttered 625 times on TV the following day and Sherman believes "thug" is an acceptable way of saying "nigger", which brings this to mind...
I have a feeling he's probably right about that but I suspect it's less a matter of us being ready to have that discussion and more like this being a slow-flying goose that wound up in front of the jet engine that is the Super Bowl hype machine. Mine is more immediately manageable, I think, but if we're really going to address the big, difficult problem, I'm willing to wait. Meanwhile, there's a young pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays named Chris Archer. I like him because when he's interviewed, you can actually see him stop, think for a second, and then answer the reporter's question. I'd just like to see more of that and less than the other, if that's okay.
More players like this, please

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