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The Victimization of Richard Sherman " Let's talk about Masculinity and Race in Football

02/04/2014 02:48:16 PM


By M'Liss DeWald, Youth Programs Specialist

Minutes after Richard Sherman made the amazing final play during the 2014 NFL's NFC Championship game, he was immediately questioned about it. Though his response"as everyone now has heard over and over"was less than “professional,” the response from the public and the zeal with which the media has gone after Sherman is appalling. One could hear the excitement, pride and adrenaline in Sherman's response. And for the public to respond with mostly race and class stereotypes directed at him is disturbing and dehumanizing.

There is an underlying reality of how masculinity is trained and performed by male athletes that needs to be a part of the discussion. Think about what we expect from a defensive football player. They are rewarded for big hits, aggressive coverage and competitiveness. Now think of what it stereotypically means to be a “man” in United States culture: tough, emotionless, competitive, into sports, the bread winner, etc.  So if a football player grows up with our culture's expectations of manhood and then they are additionally trained to be more aggressive and competitive on the field, is it realistic to expect him to be “professional and courteous” minutes after a huge play (sending his team to the Super Bowl) is made? Is it fair to judge their ‘sportsmanlike conduct' by that moment?

The training and socialization that athletes go through breeds the exact kind of aggression that Sherman showed just minutes after a play, and then he was victimized as a result of this socialization. The thread of masculinity that is presented has largely been left out of this conversation. What has not been omitted by the public is race. The rampant racism that the public has shown around Richard Sherman is appalling.

Richard Sherman is a 6'3,” 195 pound, Black man with dreads from Compton, LA, and for those who say that his race is not the focus of this conversation they have undoubtedly missed the responses people had all over social media. Sherman has been called the N word, a F$%King N word, a porch monkey, a monkey, a Thug and a number of other racial slurs"all of which have a large historical background in our country. The response from the public demonstrates the large amount of racism that still exists in our society.

The N words and porch monkey are blatant racism, but think for a minute about what image comes to your mind when you hear the word thug. I mean honestly think about it. I have been socialized to think of “thug” as a criminal, potential drug dealer, most likely to have a gun on them that they will use, someone who is overall hard, and to be really honest, someone who is Black.

So the question that is raised for me is, why has Richard Sherman been categorized as a “thug” by the public and media? By the way, the word “thug” was used 625 times the Monday following the game (Kyle Wagner on Regressing, see link below). What is it about Sherman that makes him a “thug?” Is that he's a Black man with dreads (is every Black man with dreads a thug)? Or is it that he's from Compton, LA (is that all it takes)? Or is it that he responded with adrenaline and excitement after making a play that sent him to the Super Bowl AND that he's Black? Are his degree from Stanford, his charity work and his overall life choices not enough to remove him from the “thug” category? Is being a Black man all it takes these days?

Richard Sherman absolutely responded to Erin Andrews with passion and excitement on the field and that's what I expect from a football player immediately after a big play. Yes, he said that Crabtree was a mediocre receiver and that he was the best cornerback of all time, but is that really all it takes for racial slurs and enraged comments from the public to be acceptable? The conversation that is being highlighted is sadly not about the racism that this incident has uncovered, but about Sherman's response on the field.

Richard Sherman admitted in an interview, “What they [the public] did in response to my comments was to show their true character. The racial slurs were actual comments. You know they had time to think about it, they were sitting at a computer, and they expressed themselves in a true way and I thought that society had moved past that.” My hope is that people think before they post and that there would be an acknowledgement of the continued existence of racism: culturally, institutionally, as well as in each of us. In addition, I ask you to ponder the following questions;


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