So, Richard Sherman No. 1. Cinderella story. The Compton come-up kid, making a name for himself despite everything. Stanford savant, Illiad-loving, clean-record, “best corner in the game!”
Or Richard Sherman No. 2. Thug. Disgrace. “Overpaid, classless embarrassment to professional sports!”
Teams aside, the interweb is tearing itself apart over who Richard Sherman really is. His whole biography is being shredded to determine an impossible consensus on issues of character and what he represents.
Sherman isn’t what I’m writing about here. He’s a high-quality football player who was hyped during an important game. There’s context with Crabtree and with the media and to the season and everything. And, anyway, since when did anyone watch football to see class? I thought we watched for the hits, the scores, for the fun of it. I thought we wanted them to be amped up.
What I’m talking about here is the subject of What Richard Sherman Taught Us About America: that is, the country, its reaction, and what we supposedly learned after Sherman’s signature interview.
Here’s what the article says we learned:
He taught us that we’re still a country that isn’t ready for lower-class Americans from neighborhoods like Compton to succeed.
This is patently false. Americans of all stripes love stories of overcoming obstacles, of beating odds, of underdogs. We need look no farther than all the other athletes from Compton: Arron Afflalo, Tyson Chandler, Mike Garrett, Tayshaun Prince, BJ Raji, Serena and Venus Williams, to mention just a sampling. We are ready—and, I think, excited—to see “lower-class Americans from neighborhoods like Compton” succeed. In fact, I think most people who are currently criticizing Sherman would still be willing to grant that he has succeeded athletically, that he is a great—if not the greatest—corner in the League today.
We’re still a country that can’t decipher a person’s character.
That may be true, but this is not a uniquely modern or American problem. This is a human problem. Everyone judges based on what they know. Sure, we should do our homework. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions. We shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But Richard Sherman gave a performance and a soundbyte, and, like it or not, that’s enough to form a judgment, even if it’s not a comprehensive one. (I fully expect to be judged based on what I write here, even though you and I both know it’s only a tiny, temporary sliver of who I am.) How else are people judged except by their words and deeds? True, it would be best to take a lifetime of context into account before anyone ever judged anyone else, but that’s a pretty tall order.
But most of all, he taught us that no matter what you overcome in your life, we’re still a country that can’t accept someone if they’re a little louder, a little prouder, or a little different from the people we surround ourselves with.
Okay, fine, everyone prefers people like themselves. We’re instinctively biased in favor of the ingroup. But boisterousness and pridefulness aren’t just genetic traits; they’re matters of social etiquette. Call it prejudice if you want, but favoring the calm over the clamorous and humility over haughtiness might not be an issue of bigotry. Aren’t some characteristics considered virtuous and others less so? Maybe it’s a social construction that moderate, humble people are often more likeable—at least, more socially acceptable—but is that such a bad thing?
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So what did we really learn about America from the Richard Sherman incident?
Not much, because to learn anything about “America” here would be to box a huge diversity of opinions and takes and perspectives into a single folder, filed away with all our other generalizations.
But, at least regarding all those who reacted negatively to Sherman’s excitement, we may have learned that Americans want our celebrities to handle victory with grace more than combativeness; with humility more than arrogance; with class—whatever that is—more than ego.
These may be absurd standards, especially considering the adrenaline that would be pumping through anyone in Sherman’s circumstances, but that’s just another lesson. We hold others to higher standards than ourselves.