Let’s get this straight: Collectively we pay billions of dollars — via TV, alumni-supported scholarships, tickets, luxury boxes, product ads — to support football, all leading to the summit, the NFL. As a result, the game’s stars receive millions in salary and more in endorsements.
Then we send them out on a cold, hard field, encased in carbon and crash helmets like the gladiators they are and we tell them to collide with each other at full speed for 60 minutes.
They do, absorbing brain-rattling collisions, fueled by ego, power and athletic drive alien to all but a few of us. We laud them as “warriors,” “studs,” “weapons,” “hitting machines.” They are soldiers without guns in 21st Century Roman Coliseums.
Then, seconds after a player makes the biggest play of the biggest game in his team’s history, after he reaches the pinnacle of his profession, we expect him to ignore 25 years of character exaltation and breathless praise, take a cleansing breath and calmly compliment his opponents, praise God, thank his mom and say he’s just happy to be here.
What’s wrong with this picture?
But for real insight and historic context, read what Greg Howard writes on Deadspin. He takes into account the context described above. He sees the reaction for what it is — a majority set of values being applied to a sliver of a minority. This is not a black-white issue; it is an American cultural issue.
We like our football stars humble, calm and thoughtful. They should drive Buicks, marry super models, wear suits and ties and sponsor summer football camps to teach young boys and girls how to follow in their footsteps.
Richard Sherman takes us out of our comfort zone. But he also opens a window on the reality of our favorite sport.
He stayed inside the game even though we expect post-game interviews to be outside the game. He exhibited the energy, rage, focus and rampant, testosterone-fueled ego these players need to survive and thrive on an NFL field. Did you see the injury San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman suffered? That is one play away for every NFL contestant and they know it.
Richard Sherman screamed survivor’s rage.
Think about the long line of black athletic stars who refused to fit into our mold: Muhammad Ali springs to mind first, but Doug Williams, Jackie Robinson, Bill Russell, Arthur Ashe and Kareem Abdul Jabbar are at Ali’s heels. Go back to Joe Louis or Jack Johnson. They are all men who used their distinctive athletic abilities to transcend their games and talk about the larger society’s injustice. In some cases, they didn’t even have to talk about it; it found them.
Some of them are revered today — even though they were mostly reviled at their career peaks. All are respected because societal views and time caught up with their forward-thinking opinions.
Richard Sherman apologized yesterday and perhaps he did not choose the best time or place to rant as he did. Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll said it should be about the team, not one player. But an independent, free-thinking man is just that. Sherman encapsulated the double-standard a majority society imposes on “our” stars.
It’s OK for everyone else to say he’s the best at what he does, but he’s not allowed to? We have the Super Bowl, the Pro Bowl, All-Pro, Player of the Year, we name names, but the winners are supposed to pretend they’re unworthy?
Aw shucks is practically Peyton Manning’s middle name.
I’m not endorsing what Richard Sherman said or how he said it, but I want to understand it better. I am saying he didn’t cause a crisis for himself. He caused one for all the rest of us.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.