Much has been made of Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman over the past week-and-a-half. He started the NFC championship game as the best cornerback in the NFL and finished it the same way, but with a bit of baggage alongside.
The postgame comments Sherman gave to sideline reporters after Seattle's dismissal of San Francisco flooded social media and created a firestorm within the course of two minutes. Not surprising, as just under 56 million people were watching the game, but nonetheless, the response was a signal of the polarizing effect sports professionals can have on our society.
But if you're going to shove a microphone in the face of a jacked football player, expect an explosion.
It's like when Usain Bolt runs 100 meters in nine seconds. Immediately after he's finished breaking world records, reporters start asking him complex questions about how he feels. Every time he's going to be out of breath and gasping for air—but they still ask. It's a part of the dynamic of track and field. And it's the same with emotional players in other sports.
The element of race has been posed as the potential fulcrum of the madness surrounding Sherman's outburst, and to a degree it's plausible. Although, had Peyton Manning said the same thing in the exact same manner about Aqib Talib or Tom Brady, it stands to reason an even bigger deal would have been made.
That being said, the accusations Sherman received of being a "thug" or a "malcontent" wouldn't have been prescribed to Manning; rather "passionate" or "competitive."
Sports are full of idiosyncratic hints to race, most of which go virtually unchecked.
For instance if you were to imagine basketball players and you're told: "This player has a huge motor with a high basketball IQ," who pops into your head? On the flip side: "This player's an athlete who can jump out of the gym." Who pops into your head?
Language is at best a medium to express thought. It just so happens people's thoughts, whether consciously or unconsciously, are shaped by skin color.
Regarding Sherman, he's a complex individual, perhaps too complex for some to grasp.
Hailing from Compton, attending Stanford, and so forth; the story is intriguing, but it leaves gaps for people to fill in on how he was brought up, why he went to Stanford and all kinds of nonsense a non-public figure mightn't have to go through.
It's almost as if we can't imagine exceptions to the rules. If you're from X, you have to act like Y. No room for interpretation or expanded thought—it's cut and dry. Then if you overcome the rules but show a trait of the stereotype in a moment of madness, it removes everything you did to break out of the rules and places you back in a manageable box.
The reaction was more a critique of society than the sports world, but sports are a major part of our culture; and for the past 10 days the biggest story in sports has been the Seattle cornerback. Sherman being a featured story on CNN, Fox News, etc. only proves how sport has woven itself into society's fabric.
In all honesty, it's hard to say at this point whether or not the topic has ended. The Super Bowl is yet to come, and win or lose, Sherman will certainly be a topic of discussion. But afterwards, when other sports begin to take center stage, it will be interesting to see how the media and fans react with other athletes who are "loud.”
Should the story repeat itself, we can assume the would-be trend is larger than Sherman yelling at Crabtree via Erin Andrews' microphone. If it was a one-off, then Sherman's a historical lightning rod all his own.