Growing up in rural North Carolina and playing on a variety of sports teams with a variety of coaches, a great deal of philosophies were instilled upon me. Most of the philosophies centered on having the mentality that regardless of what the circumstances are, “act like you have done it before” and “do everything with class”. This was an outstanding message, especially considering we were young kids that needed to display proper sportsmanship on the field, court, or diamond. Some people of course took the message to heart more than others. Within the lines out of the plain sight of the coaches’, plenty of “trash talking” took place. Of course as we increased in age and league level, the language may have gotten stronger because the stakes were higher. For the most part however, there was respect given and it was left on the field. When I transitioned into coaching, I wanted the same displaying of good sportsmanship from my athletes. I used the same cliché’s; “act like you’ve done it before”. I sincerely wanted them to win, but also to play with “class”; a universally accepted theme. During the NFC Championship Game between the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, the world was confronted with a referendum of what exactly is the definition of class.
Richard Sherman, the 3rd year Seattle Seahawks corner out of Stanford, and arguably the best in the National Football League just made a game saving play against division foe the San Francisco 49ers and arch nemesis Receiver Michael Crabtree to send them to the Super Bowl. Sherman and many of his teammates were at the peak of emotion. He already plays with a huge “chip” on his shoulders when it comes to the 49ers. He has strong feelings when it comes to its Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, who was his coach at Stanford and of course with Crabtree who he has had words on social media and in person. After Sherman made that play, sought out Crabtree to let him know he made the play, gave the universal “choke” sign to San Francisco Quarterback Colin Kaepernick for throwing the pass, and having confetti rain down for getting to the big game, Erin Andrews, Fox Sports Sideline Reporter stopped Sherman to get his feelings after the win. Richard Sherman loudly told her exactly what he felt, “I’m the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get. Don’t you ever talk about me. Don’t you open your mouth about the best or I’m gonna shut it for you real quick.” Now because of the volume, the immediate perception was that he was talking about Andrews, but the reality is he was talking about Crabtree and in some part Harbaugh. It was not the greatest “look” in the world and just me merely addressing it in a blog it is obvious that backlash occurred, but exactly why THIS case is so polarizing is beyond my scope of understanding.
Twitter and Facebook absolutely “lit up” after the Sherman/Andrews interview. Some people were up in arms about the “classless” display of sportsmanship by Sherman and it being taken out on Andrews while others were applauding the confidence and honesty he displayed. What myself, America, and Sherman soon found out was that the opinions stretched generationally, economically, and in some cases racially. It was apparent that most athletes of the current generation did not have a serious problem with the antics of Sherman, merely saying that although they may not have done the same, it was no big deal to them. Economically, the divide between those that consume the product of the National Football League versus the athletes that perform have always been an interesting dynamic. The “Million Dollar” debate that has always been wrangled over is what are the consumer wants versus the athletes freedom of expression. As a producer of a show on 92.9 The Game I am always privy to the opinions of the sports consumer. A great deal of people sincerely believe that because they pay a price for a ticket it allows them the right to act and appear a certain way but the athlete must conform to their standard. While there is some degree of decorum that is expected by both parties, athletes are not the consumers puppets.
There are similar dynamics within generations and across racial lines when people have judged the behavior of Sherman. People primarily of a certain age hated the post game interview and do not care for some of the things modern athletes sometimes display such as tattoos, body piercings, and their dress. In contrast, folks of a younger generation that mostly see those things as self-expression feel as long as it is not illegal, there is nothing wrong with it. It is still amazing that racial implications in the behavior of athletes is still prevalent. Richard Sherman found out quickly that a certain percentage of people did not like his interview antics because of the perception that the “Big Black Man” hurt the feelings of the “innocent White Woman”. That could have been further from the truth but on social media you could see numerous altered pictures of just that philosophy and perception. Additionally, the perception of how black athletes should behave from black people is always an “interesting dynamic”. Coming from the ever going speech saga of Jameis Winston, Florida State Quarterback to now Richard Sherman, I can easily see the words, “WE GOTTA DO BETTER” flash across the faces of African-Americans.
I was left wondering after the Richard Sherman interview and the subsequent backlash, “what are the expectations of our athletes?” I literally was left wondering should these figures give the refreshing truth or make a “business decision” and give the corporate answer for the camera? It is truly amazing to me that those considered “classy” athletes are some of the biggest narcissistic blowhards in the world. Actual bad behavior has taken place on camera by athletes that has never grown to this magnitude. I can only conclude that it should be left to the individual viewing the athlete as to what their flavor is. The source of this perception is the more intriguing part to me because how many of us put ourselves in the same box or live to the same standard? Realistically, I can understand how folks could be taken back by Sherman and the interview; he was loud and maybe obnoxious. However, if the word “thug” comes to mind when one viewed that interview I challenge the source of the conclusion.
Jamie Walker is a Producer and Blogger for Sports Radio 92.9 The Game. Follow him on Twitter @coachjdub21 or through email at Jamie.Walker@cbsradio.com.