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Editorial: Sherman’s importance

As of Sunday night, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is officially the proud owner of a Super Bowl championship ring. That might dismay many of his detractors, a group that certainly grew in number following his infamous post-game interview with Erin Andrews two weeks ago. The interview occurred minutes after the Seahawks’ victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game, in which Sherman and his fellow members of the Seattle defense were instrumental in leading their team to the Super Bowl.

Sherman evidently agreed wholeheartedly with that sentiment, declaring himself  “the best corner in the game” in the interview. He also offered a handshake to the wide receiver he’d been covering, Michael Crabtree — a handshake that many have interpreted as mocking Crabtree on national television.

Sherman’s actions and statements were met with a sharp backlash from the general public, with many deeming the cornerback classless, a poor sport and a “thug.” Conversely, Sherman also had some defenders in the public eye, like Jon Stewart, who highlighted the racial implications of the country’s response to Sherman. Stewart made a point of asking why we deem Sherman — a Stanford-educated football player who was merely expressing his enthusiasm after a massive victory — a thug, yet give more leeway to public figures like Toronto mayor Rob Ford and Justin Bieber, who actually have committed criminal acts. Much of the discussion since has revolved around race and the question of whether a white football player in Sherman’s shoes would have received quite the same level of criticism.

We believe this is an important conversation and that Stewart is indeed correct in his interpretation. These types of comments concerning Sherman’s behavior are racist and further perpetuate a false stereotype of the American black man. This, of course, is nothing new. Many have outlined the role of media in creating a stereotypical image of a criminal as a black man, especially during news cycles that judge three men — two white criminals and a black man on an ego trip — and deem the black man a “thug.”

There’s another side of Sherman’s interview that still needs to be addressed yet has received far less media attention: the question of our sports culture in general. Children are raised in this culture from the first time that they sign up for a T-ball league. Winning is everything. The “winners” can gloat over the “losers” and denigrate them to their heart’s content. Sports have become a source of ego magnification for the physically gifted, and ego reduction for those who are not so fortunate.

It’s often said of the greatest athletes that they are able to accomplish spectacular feats because of an immense belief in themselves and their abilities; in short, an ego is necessary if you want to be the best. This is worrisome only when we cross that line into respecting arrogance and egotism, particularly when these traits leave the field and enter society. The debate over Sherman seems misguided in this respect; cultural commentators have singled him out as an individual rather than viewing him as part of a wider sports culture that is problematic. Stewart and other commentators are right in recognizing that criticism of Sherman referring to him as a “thug” or similar slurs is fundamentally racist, but what they have thus far ignored is that his conduct was indeed indicative of the harmful nature of sports culture and masculinity in America.

Perhaps we need to reduce the premium we place on sports in our culture in order to step back and see that we ignore, or even encourage, arrogance — as long as it gets the “W.” Parents, coaches and athletes alike participate in this gross overvaluation of what an athletic victory truly means.

And, in fitting irony, Sherman’s response after winning the Super Bowl was nothing short of exemplary. He complimented Peyton Manning as a classy player whom he admired and could learn much from. He gave credit to both his opponents and his teammates while celebrating the victory for what it was: a Super Bowl victory. Nothing more, nothing less.

 

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Matt Brundage ’15 and Rachel Occhiogrosso ’14, and its members, Hannah Loewentheil ’14 and Thomas Nath ’16. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.

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