During the final minute of the NFC Championship game Sunday between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks, with Seattle leading by 6, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick targeted receiver Michael Crabtree in the Seahawks end zone with a pass that, if successful, would almost certainly have won the game for San Francisco. Instead, in a play that is destined to go down in franchise history, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman tipped the pass to teammate Malcolm Smith for an interception. Now the Seahawks will be facing the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, while the 49ers will be watching it on television, like the rest of us.
Minutes later, Fox Sports reporter Erin Andrews buttonholed Sherman for a brief but memorable sideline interview that turned out to be unlike any athlete interview you've ever seen.
I'm the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree that's the result you're going to 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! L.O.B.!Sherman's remarks touched off a Hurricane Sandy-sized shitstorm on Twitter, that conduit for the human id that we turn to so often these days for instant reactions to anything.
Richard Sherman, show some class. That was awful.— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) January 20, 2014
Wow. Decided to go with the broncos after that interview. Seriously dude??— Matt Harvey (@MattHarvey33) January 20, 2014
Sherman you're embarrassing yourself…Shameful— mark schlereth (@markschlereth) January 20, 2014
And of course wherever idiots gather to leave 140-character brain droppings, there ye shall find racism. I'm not going to repeat them, but you can read some of the messages on Deadspin and Mediaite. The N-word was trotted out and paraded around; people assigned Sherman to several lower-order primate species; others expressed a heartfelt desire to see him murdered. As long as stupid racists have access to Twitter, no one should be surprised to see them say stupid racist things. But there were also subtler, more coded reactions: Sherman is a "thug." Sherman is "ghetto." And then there were the reactions like this one:
Erin Andrews was scared for her life. My goodness.— Jeremy Rauch (@FOX19Jeremy) January 20, 2014
Watch the clip above with the sound down and cover the left side of the video with your hand and tell me if you see a woman who's scared for her life. Aside from a brief oh-my-God-I-can't-believe-I'm-getting-this-interview reaction at the beginning, Andrews' demeanor is that of a seasoned professional throughout.
But of course that's not what Jeremy Rauch and others like him saw. What they saw was a large black man with dreadlocks standing next to a smaller white woman and ranting, and whether they realized it or not, something about that tableau made the lizard part of their brains light up with one of the oldest and most primitive forms of racism known to mankind: the perceived need to protect white womanhood from strong, virile black men. So in addition to perpetuating one of the worst racist stereotypes imaginable--and, again, I doubt that most of the people expressing sentiments like this realized they were even doing it--they did Erin Andrews a severe disservice, and to top it off, they weren't even right. Andrews was thrilled with the interview and explicitly denies most of what everyone is saying about it:
I don’t want this to look like I was upset with him, I was frightened, I felt threatened, we all like Richard Sherman a lot at Fox. At that moment I saw how crazy it was going to blow up, and I wanted to make sure people knew it wasn’t a situation where I’m a victim and he acted like an idiot.So who is Richard Sherman? He's a man who graduated 2nd in his high school class after a childhood spent dodging gang bangers on the streets of Compton, California. He's a man who graduated from Stanford University--an institution not known for coddling its football players--with a 3.9 GPA and a degree in communications, and then turned right back around and got started on a master's degree. He's a man who was selected in the fifth round, the 154th pick overall, of the 2011 NFL draft, and in three years has become an All-Pro and Pro Bowl cornerback who has earned the right to call himself the best corner in the league. He is a student of the game who spends his free time watching game film for hours while his teammates are out partying. He is a philanthropist who is dedicated to his charity, Blanket Coverage, which supplies disadvantaged kids with school supplies and clothes. He is hated by fans who would love him if he played for their team.
He is a standout member of a team full of players who were never supposed to amount to anything, and he wears a chip on his shoulder that is the source of all his powers. All the racism, all the doubts, all the contempt, they all go into that chip. When idiots say racist shit about him on Twitter, that feeds him. All those sports fans who've ostentatiously declared themselves Broncos fans because of him have done nothing but work to bring about their own defeat. Because if the rest of the Seahawks play up to his level in two weeks, that upturned middle finger on Richard Sherman's hand will have a Super Bowl ring on it.