An episode that could have possibly sunk Richard Sherman’s public life turned instead into a poignant and important public conversation on Black Lives Matter that has been arguably absent from the professional sports world.
Sherman, the Seattle Seahawks cornerback acclaimed at least as much for his performance as his and teammate Marshawn Lynch’s ongoing war with sports media who often insist on putting black atheletes in a restrictive box, was compelled last week to respond to a bizarre controversy only incidentally involving him. An Internet personality known as King Noble, who is affiliated with the "#FuckYoFlag" movement, posted a video essentially declaring open war on police officers. Noble and the movement (as much as it is a movement) was linked without much evidence to Black Lives Matter by a number of news outlets, as Vox details.
Sherman was roped into the situation when a picture of he and Lynch, embracing one another, was posted to Noble’s blog with text reading "When we gon Kill These KKKrakas Bro" overlaid on the image. Subsequently, someone responded on the blog, intimating that he was Sherman, criticizing the image in a blog post that included the following criticism:
We are who we want to be, that is what is great about america. We are all born with the same chances in life..white or black…YOU choose to be a woman-abusing racist loudmouth.
Subsequent to this, numerous right-wing websites reported that Sherman wrote the post, despite very little evidence other than the post’s proclamation suggesting that it was Sherman. The conservative sites’ posts generally suggested that Sherman was repudiating Black Lives Matter, as if Noble’s "movement" was explicitly linked—something they later corrected with little suggestion that they cared about the error.
Sherman was compelled to respond during a press conference last Wednesday, commenting both on the post he didn’t write, and his actual thoughts on Black Lives Matter. Those thoughts proved controversial. Deadspin posted the full comments (transcription attributed to SB Nation), but the following sections were especially notable:
I don’t think any time’s a time to call out for an all-out war against police or any race of people. I thought that was an ignorant statement. But as a black man, I do understand that black lives matter. You know, I stand for that, I believe in that wholeheartedly.
But I also think that there’s a way to go about things, and there’s a way to do things. And I think the issue at hand needs to be addressed internally, and before we move on, because from personal experience, you know, you have living in the hood, living in the inner city, you deal with things, you deal with people dying. Dealt with a best friend getting killed … it was two 35-year-old black men. Wasn’t no police officer involved, wasn’t anybody else involved, and I didn’t hear anybody shouting “black lives matter” then … and I think that’s the point we need to get to is that we need to deal with our own internal issues before we move forward and start pointing fingers and start attacking other people. We need to solidify ourselves as people and deal with our issues, because I think as long as we have black-on-black crime and, you know, one black man killing another … if black lives matter, then it should matter all the time. You should never let somebody get killed—that’s somebody’s son, that’s somebody’s brother, that’s somebody’s friend. So you should always keep that in mind.
Sherman’s comments, which evoked highly-contested "black on black crime" arguments, was not well-received by many. It’s a reaction that takes on even more poignance given that Stanford-grad Sherman represents a non-willingness to comply with societal expectations of black people (exagerrated humility) that is celebrated by many affiliated with Black Lives Matter. Notable sports personalities like Stephen A. Smith, who has publically criticized the Black Lives Matter movement, stood by Sherman’s comments.
But Sherman’s teammate, defensive lineman Michael Bennett, spoke at a press conference the next day and criticized Sherman’s argument:
Oh yes, I was reading Richard Sherman’s quotes yesterday. I would like to say I disagree with some of the things that he said yesterday. I think when people talk about the black lives matter thing, I think he’s misinterpreting it, that black people kill black people, white people kill white people. People kill people every day.
I think the black lives thing is more about the social injustice, not so much the injustice of people killing within the community, it’s about the social injustice of the people that is supposed to protect them, and building the community through the black community. Not just black people too, because you see a lot of people within the Black Lives Matters organization that are white, Spanish, they are all dealing with the same type of hardships that are going on around the world.
Bennett also said that he spoke with Sherman about it, and cited Dick Gregory as an influence in his thinking.
To date, this is perhaps the most visible public conversation about Black Lives Matter and police brutality in the sports world—one which, given the struggles with NFL corporate hegemony and the growing awarness of long-term brain damage effects on NFL players, is starting to receive attention for its mistreatement of primarily-black players.