Richard Sherman’s Blackness Will Take Center Stage at This Year’s Super Bowl

Sherman is now the hottest name in sports, and all the attention has very little to do with how he performed on the field.

By Jamilah King Jan 21, 2014

There are apparently many racist white people on Twitter who would love to see a "classy," "measured" (read: white) Denver Broncos Quarterback Peyton Manning teach Seattle Seawhawks Cornerback Richard Sherman a lesson or two in civility because his blackness is getting in the way.

Sherman is now the hottest name in sports, and all the attention has very little to do with how he performed on the field. The Seattle Seahawks cornerback made a game-saving play during Sunday’s NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers and then gave an emotional post-game interview in which he does a bit of dramatic trash-talking that’s been widely mocked with racist invective ever since. But the ensuing drama has put racism in American sports on center stage just in time for this year’s Super Bowl.

For some background: Deadspin rounded up some of the worst of the worst after Sunday’s game (Greg Howard’s piece on the "Plight of the Conquering Negro" is also a must-read). After Sunday’s interview, Twitter’s racist trolls came out in full force and called Sherman pretty much every anti-black slur imaginable, including a"typical nigger," "ape" and "gorilla." One user even went as far as to write, "Someone needs to introduce Richard Sherman to George Zimmerman.#ThugLifeOver."

Sherman later issued an apology for verbally attacking opposing player Michael Crabtree, but also used his statement to speak out against the racist verbal attacks that had come his way. 

"To those who would call me a thug or worse because I show passion on a football field — don’t judge a person’s character by what they do between the lines," Sherman wrote in the column posted on "Judge a man by what he does off the field, what he does for his community, what he does for his family.

"But people find it easy to take shots on Twitter, and to use racial slurs and bullying language far worse than what you’ll see from me. It’s sad and somewhat unbelievable to me that the world is still this way, but it is. I can handle it."

More important background: Over at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates offered up some of Sherman’s biography — including a degree from Stanford — and wrote about the danger of using Sherman’s moment of individual braggadocio as somehow representative of black people everywhere:

And then there is the racism from onlookers, who are incapable of perceiving in Sherman an individual, and instead see the sum of all American fears–monkey, thug, terrorist, nigger. And then there is us, ashamed at our own nakedness, at our humanity. Racism is a kind of fatalism, so seductive, that enthralls even it’s victims. But we will not get out of this by being on our best behavior–sometimes it has taken our worse. There’s never been a single thing wrong with black people, that the total destruction of white supremacy would not fix. 

Manning, meanwhile, has long epitomized the so-called "good ole’ days" of buttoned-up, Southern-bred white quarterbacks. As Dave Zirin wrote over at The Nation:

Richard Sherman is consciously an archetype that has been branded a threat as long as African-Americans have played sports: the loud, deeply intelligent black guy who uses this outsized cultural platform to be as bombastic as he wants to be. Whether the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson or Richard Sherman, they tend to be painted with only one dimension, which makes it easier for them to be denigrated and demonized. 

Stay tuned to see how this plays out over the next two weeks.