Soapbox: Trashtalk, NFL, and Perceptions of Decorum




Full disclosure:  I am not a football girl.  I can watch it, I can understand plays, I get it.  I just don’t have time for it. Coupled with the fact that I am married to the one man on the planet who hates watching sports.  NO really.  He hates it.  He will watch the occasional game, but his perspective is why watch something that he could go play.  He was a football and baseball player in his youth, so he just thinks its lazy to be an arm-chair quarterback.

However, I am an academic — and a person who is completely interested in the perspectives and assumptions that humanity makes dealing with controversy.  Even more so controversy that falls under racial stereotypes and assumptions.  [Note:  My undergraduate research dived into racial psychological and sociological issues on a fairly consistent basis, my law school work honed in on critical race theory and critical gender theory and the law.  I have done less CRT/CGT studies in my Masters and PhD work, choosing to focus more on the prison industrial complex and fiscal inequality through the lenses of policing, local government, nonprofits, and networks.]

So in walks the Sherman post-game interview:

In case you have trouble deciphering what he is saying (or if the link dies) here is a written transcript thanks to the Young Turks:

Sherman: “Well I’m the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that is the result you are going to get. Don’t you ever talk about me”
Andrews: “Who was talking about you?”
Sherman: “Crabtree.  Don’t open your mouth about the best, or I’m going to shut it for you real quick.  ‘LOB!’ (Legion of Boom)”

And BOOM goes the internet!  Like this was the first time anyone had ever trash talked on an open mic…..

People from all walks of life decided that this man was public enemy #1!  He was classless, crass, a thug, a mediocre person (not player, PERSON) so on and so forth.  My ears perked up at the common stereotypical terminology for African-American men being thrown around.

Black men are thugs, they are crass, they obviously are mediocre.  Wait…a person can get ALL of that about Sherman because he said that he was the best player, and that he was better than Crabtree?  After Crabtree pushed him in his face mask (stay classy, Crabtree — Sherman is expected to be “classy” but its a-okay for Crabtree to push him away? Cognitive dissonance anyone?).  I wonder what these folks think of Ali’s trash talk which really was EPIC compared to this.  I mean even in academia I’ve said those things — people doubt your chops, and when you prove to them that you are worthy to play in their sandbox sometimes a smug quip or a well placed side eye is required (e.g. “OH?  I assumed you of all people would clearly understand the application of boundary-spanning to this organizational issue.  You didn’t?  Well let ME help YOU.”  *Insert smug look and/or Michelle Obama levels of shade, while saying “Who’s the dumb-ass now” in your head*).

Here is a great segment of the Young Turks where they all discuss this, and determine if they believe that Sherman is guilty of being a classless thug, or not. Not everyone on this set thinks the same way, so it gives great perspective.  Further, the team makes sure to talk about the entirety of the issues (the pre-season conflict between Sherman and Crabtree, Sherman’s credentials, his previous issues with an ESPN commentator, race theory, so on):

Now, the Young Turks made a great point about this — if you are older and remember when football was more of a “gentleman’s sport” OR if you just hate trash talk and give equal weight to the sins of others (including Crabtree) this soapbox rant isn’t about you (so don’t write me angry comments).  But lets be real — many of folks upholding standards of civility in this case are really only complaining because they apply racial stereotypes to Sherman.  Case in point:

Twitter Posting by @JClutch_: richard sherman is a joke ahahah fucking ugly nigger i hate niggers tbh i dont give a fuck hes a nigger theres a diff between black people [Care of Young Turks videocast]

NOW, this whole issue and the undertones present is the stuff thesis and dissertations are made of!  No really… this is the stuff.  Keia Bragg from the University of Tennessee Knoxville penned her masters thesis entitled: “We Are Not Thugs and Rappers: An Examination of African American Male Athletes’ Perception of the Media.”   It’s very good — you can read it HERE.  Bragg found that former athletes did feel as if they were represented negatively in the media, and that they had to “conform a certain way because of the media” in order to “prove the media wrong in terms of what it means to be an African American male athlete.”   Okay.  So what this says in non-academic abstract is that black men feel they have to act differently so that the media has no opportunity to TRY and manipulate an interview or quote to “prove” they are a thug.

This is SO COMMON in all aspects of African-American life.  Right now I am sitting with my hair all natural — however many times I conform and straighten my hair.   I carry the right bags, I go to the right schools, I join the right civic organizations, and I know how to speak in front of a camera.  Do you realize how EXHAUSTING this is?  To always try and respond appropriately and “do the right thing” so people won’t mistake me for being a “welfare queen”?  I’m exhausted typing this.  The issue really is more that we have such odd expectations of people based on race and/or gender.  We impose majority race standards of beauty and behavior, but why?  Why can’t I run for office with my curls and kinks flowing in the wind?  Why must Sherman interview with Andrews like he’s Carlton Banks:

Part is that we expect code switching to occur.  We have expectations that Sherman will straighten up and fly right when interviewed instead of saying how he really feels, being passionate, or being himself.  This man has never tried to hide his bravado, yet the world still wishes him to switch it off in front of the cameras for the good of…well heck if I know.  IF you don’t understand code switching this NPR article should help, and/or this section Key and Peele will help:

My two cents is this:  So what he said what he said.  A football player is not a role model (yes parents I said it — football players ARE NOT role models generally, do better), he has a job and he did it with gusto.  You do not have to like him as a person to respect his job on the field — and when he stops doing his job (which is to hit people, pass the ball, and run real fast) it is his teams responsibility to fire him.  It was not out of line, disrespectful, or “niggerish” (no matter what that twitter dude thinks).  The person passing that ball is human, and is allowed to be human with emotions and feelings that may not sooth your perceptions of decorum.  I agree with the Young Turks’ Ana Kasparian — I hate false modesty.  So if you think you’re the shit, then just be you.  Maybe won’t win you false friends, but it will allow you to breathe and be who you really are.  However, don’t be surprised if someone calls you on your bravado when you fail.  If you are okay with that, then be the best and say you are.  Just like Drake up at the top — that whole line is about being the best: “Last name: “Ever”, First Name: “Greatest”.  I didn’t hear anyone raking him over the coals and trust me that he sees WAY more airtime than any football player who’s last name isn’t Manning…..

Further, there is more to Sherman than a trash-talker.  This video, in my opinion, is more of who Sherman is than a less than 30 second soundbite…Sherman appears to be someone whose family lives with him, someone who started a charity for kids, someone who graduated with a 4.2 GPA and number two in his High School class, someone who graduated from Stanford —- someone who doesn’t care if people like him, because he KNOWS what he has accomplished and he doesn’t need that dude in the armchair to give him approval.  I wish we all could get to that point in life…to NOT need someones approval to survive, I know i’m not there yet:

So what do you think?  Should black athletes have to live in fear of the media making them out to be Lil Wayne?  Should athletes have to code switch to soothe the majority?  Do they need decorum and tact classes that are required by the NFL?  What about historic trash talkers like Ali and Tyson?   Those filled with bravado who aren’t NFL players like Drake or Jay-Z?  Should they all take a decorum lesson too?


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