Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman’s thoughtful comments about Black Lives Matter show he’s more than a brash, talented football player.
Richard Sherman strolled to the front of the room and uttered a sports writer’s four favorite words: “Before we get started …’’
When the loquacious Seahawks star goes off script, you know it’s going to be good. Just ask sportscaster Erin Andrews about his TV rant two seasons ago. Think back to last year, when Sherman brought a cardboard cutout of Seahawks teammate Doug Baldwin to his news conference for an extended performance piece designed to skewer NFL hypocrisy. Remember his biting commentary from the Super Bowl about Roger Goodell’s conflict of interest in the New England Patriots’ Deflategate saga.
But the All-Pro cornerback doesn’t just dabble in the bombastic and the whimsical. The beauty of Sherman is that he’s one of the few prominent athletes willing to tackle controversial issues — and take the heat and the backlash that inevitably come with that.
“I’m not scared to be judged,’’ he said Wednesday. “I’m not afraid to be criticized. I’m OK with who I am, I’m OK with being human, and understanding that I do some things great and I make mistakes.”
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And so, before his weekly media briefing, Sherman launched into an unscheduled and unprompted commentary on the Black Lives Matter movement. The spark was a blog post on a Black Lives Matter website that had been incorrectly attributed to him. He wanted to make sure people knew it wasn’t his work — he’s a better writer than that, he joked — but Sherman used the opening for a thoughtful conversation on Black Lives Matter.
“As a black man, I do understand that black lives matter,” Sherman said. “I stand for that, I believe in that wholeheartedly. But I also think that there’s a way … to do things, and I think the issue at hand needs to be addressed internally before you move on.
“From personal experience, living in the hood, living in the inner city, you deal with things. You deal with people dying. I dealt with a best friend getting killed, and it was two 35-year-old black men. With no police officer involved. Wasn’t anybody else involved, and I didn’t hear anybody shouting ‘black lives matter’ then.
“I think that’s the point we need to get to. We need to deal with our own internal issues before we move forward and start pointing fingers and start attacking other people. We need to solidify ourselves as people and deal with our issues. I think that as long as we have black-on-black crime, and one black man killing another … If black lives matter, then they should matter all the time.”
Regardless of whether you agree with Sherman’s stance, it was refreshing to hear a well-informed athlete with a well-considered point of view on an important, topical issue.
Some will say, I’m sure, that Sherman is an athlete, not an activist, so leave the social commentary to the experts.
But contrary to former NBA star Charles Barkley’s famous Nike ad campaign (“I’m not a role model … Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids”), athletes like Sherman have an undeniable forum. And they have an audience that hangs on their words, and follows their lead.
Sherman, a 27-year-old defensive star in his fifth season for the Seahawks, is self-aware enough to realize that such influence cuts both ways. On the one hand, his life story is an inspiration — rising from a modest upbringing in Compton, Calif., to graduate with honors from Stanford, and then giving back to his community.
On the other hand, Sherman knows that when he asks Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, “You mad, bro?” and verbally skewers former 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree on TV after preventing him from scoring the winning touchdown in the NFC title game, he’s empowering young football players to be as brash as he is.
“There’s good and bad to it,’’ Sherman acknowledged. “There are people that reach out and say that you’re their kid’s favorite player and their kid does this because they want to get a 4.0 (grade-point average) because you had it and things like that.
“But there are also people that come up and say, ‘My kid is trash-talking because of you.’ It has its ups and downs, but you understand the power that you have as a leader, as an idol for some of these kids, so you try to recognize that and turn it into a positive.
“I try to be mindful … You have to do your best to use your platform in the best way possible.”
Sherman seems to have subtly turned away from the taunting, in-your-face outbursts that made him a household name in the first place. It’s almost as if he knew he had to be brash to be heard above the noise, but once he got your attention, it was time to talk about serious topics.
That’s not to say Sherman won’t trash-talk in the future. But I’ll bet we hear more rational discussions like this one than wild-eyed rants.
“As long as people are watching and respect my opinion, I’m going to give it,’’ he said. “I think it’s incredibly important for people to understand that.
“At the end of the day, like I said, we’re humans. Humanity. Let’s celebrate our humanity. You’re categorizing people and racially profiling people; at the end of the day, when we die and our skin decays, our bones are the same. You can’t tell if someone was black, white, Asian, Latino. We don’t know what they were.
“I think this is the time to end that. I’m one person, and there are other people out there speaking up against it, but we do what we can.”
And when Sherman goes off script, it’s time to pay close attention.