Academic journal article Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature

Lunch Pails and Thugs: The Richard Sherman Saga, Sport Literature, and the Racial Discourse of American Sports

Academic journal article Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature

Lunch Pails and Thugs: The Richard Sherman Saga, Sport Literature, and the Racial Discourse of American Sports

Article excerpt

In the final minute of the 2014 NFC Championship Game, the San Francisco 49ers were inside the 20 yard line, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick was throwing for the end zone and a place in Super Bowl XLVIII. Unfortunately for Kaepernick and the 49ers, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman made a play on the ball, deflecting the pass intended for 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree into the hands of a Seattle linebacker. The stellar defensive play sealed the NFC Championship for Seattle, but the following day it was Sherman's postgame interview that made national headlines and inspired visceral reactions. When reporter Erin Andrews asked Sherman to discuss the defensive play, a charged up Sherman responded in something of a shout: "Well I'm the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you're gonna get! Don't you ever talk about me!" (qtd. in Burke). As Andrews followed up and attempted to keep the interview moving, the Fox broadcast changed to shots of other players milling around the field. The audio indicates that the interview came to an end when Sherman walked away as Andrews attempted to continue.

If Sherman's reaction was unexpected, the ensuing public reaction on Twitter was sadly predictable. As Greg Howard argues, some seemed particularly concerned with Sherman's proximity to Andrews, a white woman, during the interview: "to a lot of people there was something viscerally ugly about Sherman standing over a pretty blonde woman." Samer Kalaf of Deadspin compiled a group of racist reactions on the social media site. Use of the "n-word" was a common thread of those tweets, as was referring to Sherman as a "monkey," "ape," or "gorilla." While the article does not suggest a representative sampling of all, or even a significant portion of, the overall social media reaction, its publication on Deadspin situates it in a place of significant cultural awareness. Deadspin's motivations for posting the article (and other similar articles in the past) are debatable and probably multiple. The article's provocative title, "Dumb People Say Stupid, Racist Shit About Richard Sherman," certainly seems written to induce the coveted "page hit" by which websites measure their popularity and attempt to generate advertising revenue. However, familiarity with Deadspin opens up other possible motivations. Deadspin's tone is often sardonic and biting, and its ire can be directed at fans, athletes, owners, and corporations at any time. The site seems to delight in causing mayhem at times, and publishing incendiary tweets along with the Twitter handles of the authors of those tweets in order to instigate a negative reaction would certainly harmonize with that tendency.

Milder reactions may have pervaded the social discourse more than those chronicled on Deadspin. Detroit Tigers pitcher and 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander sent a tweet that sought to avoid racial implications while also condemning Sherman's bravado. Said Verlander, "Russell [Wilson] is a class act! Sherman on the other hand ... If he played baseball would get a high and tight fastball" (Verlander's ellipsis). While Verlander avoids making any racial comments about Sherman and compliments Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who is also African American, Verlander's tone mirrors that of a significant portion of the popular reaction to Sherman. Perhaps Verlander meant nothing racial by the tweet, but racial connotations are evident. Russell Wilson has lighter-colored skin than Sherman, close cropped hair, and a white, blonde, wife; he is a polished speaker, he is unfailingly humble in front of the press, and he spent most of the week leading up to the Super Bowl praising his upcoming opponent and 2013 NFL Most Valuable Player, Peyton Manning--the modern NFL's paradigmatic drop-back passing quarterback (a designation that has racial implications of its own). Sherman, on the other hand, has long dreadlocks, grew up in Compton, California, a city widely known for its gang activities in the 1980s and 1990s, and he displays no qualms about his braggadocio on or off the field. …

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