Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Richard Sherman and the Perils of Alpha Male Black Masculinity: I Wonder, What Would Happen if He Channeled 'Conan the Barbarian' or 'The Gladiator?'

I am meditating on what the silly controversy about an alpha male multimillionaire athlete named Richard Sherman, who completed a highlight reel reception during the Seahawks' victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, reveals about the precarious nature of black masculinity and celebrity in the post civil rights era.

A moment of confession. As much as I respect the sociology of sports it is hard for me to muster up any sense of disgust or upsetness about a group of millionaires putting on a public show to hype up the Superbowl. We always sell "the sizzle not the steak". Moreover, I think that as demonstrated in his interview with Skip Bayless, that Richard Sherman is a bit of a jerk who is premature in his proclamations of career-long greatness.

However, please do not misunderstand my thoughts about Richard Sherman. The negative response to his interview on ESPN from some people, across the color line, is a telling moment--one that reminds us of how black men are held to higher standards of comportment and public behavior than white folks in American society.

Why? American society is profoundly uncomfortable with confident, assertive, black masculinity. There is a paradox here: black masculinity is feared, worshiped, and loathed--often at the same time, and by the same people. The mass media and culture industry profits from the spectacle.

Two questions.

What if Richard Sherman (or another successful and confident black male athlete) gave a speech similar to that of Russell Crow's character from the movie Gladiator?

Would he be loathed and criticized? By who?

What if Richard Sherman (or another successful and confident black male athlete) gave a declaration of life's virtues and meaning akin to that of Conan: The Barbarian?

Would he be loathed and criticized? By who?

Richard Sherman is causing a ruckus because he is a confident black alpha male who destroyed his foes--and then boasted about it--without any worries about being "classy" or appropriately deferent. Why should he? And are matters either that complicated or simple?


Myshkin the Idiot said...

Two words: Richie Incognito

Are these the same folks who came up to defend Incognito's harassment of teammate Jonathan Martin?

So what exactly happened? People don't like that Sherman said he is the best corner in the game?

I can't find his play anywhere, just videos of his interviews.

DanF said...

Ali saying, "I am the greatest!" provoked pretty much the same response all those years ago.

This was the best take I read on the subject: http://deadspin.com/richard-sherman-and-the-plight-of-the-conquering-negro-1505060117

Last year Ravens' QB, Joe Flacco, says in an interview, "I am the best quarterback in the NFL," and aside from some chuckles, no one called him a class-less cracker.

I work in a sports department and have been on the field when the athletes are playing. Sweetest, nicest guys you'd ever meet off the field - on the field they are pumped and playing with an emotional intensity that is borderline insane (you have to be throw your body around with the abandon they do). That is precisely WHY Fox Sports shoves a mic in the players face moments after the greatest play of his career. They WANT him to bring the crazy.

Also, to play at the NFL level almost requires a certain lack of humility. You may be self-effacing like Peyton Manning in the interview, but you better know that Peyton Manning is one cocky, competitive son of a bitch and he believes in his core that he is among the greatest to ever play. Professional sports doesn't leave a lot of room for self-doubt.

kokanee said...

Richard Sherman crushed the dweep Skip Bayless in that video! Go Sherman!

As far as Sherman versus Crabtree, that's just friendly competition and showbiz. Sherman's a character and knows how to play up the media. He's fun to watch. Just to clarify, the "choke" sign was only meant to mean the opponents "choked" under pressure on the play/game.

Give Richard Sherman his props:

Why the f am I talking about football? Oh, yeah...it's the Seahawks. ;)

chauncey devega said...

Thought that would be an easy mark--get the joke. But you are right, sports and entertainment together.

chauncey devega said...

You know my love of Ali and how he was misbehaving by not acting "modestly". But for the dollar I still love the image of Papa Jack driving around in his sports car w. white women and tempting fate. I wish I they could have recorded some of his exploits w. crashing cars and then paying cash for new ones, giving cops hundreds of dollars for speeding tickets because he would keep breaking the law, etc.

Miles_Ellison said...

With this kind of controversy, "classy" depends on your perspective (and color). White athletes (and coaches) who act this way are "intense" and "competitive." Black athletes (and coaches) who act this way are "thugs", "criminals", and "animals", regardless of their level of education. It's funny that The Commentariat's panties are in a bunch over this, but everybody thinks that the old school thuggery of the likes of Dick Butkus, Conrad Dobler, and others is entertaining.

T said...

This was much ado about nothing.
I didn't see the whole thing, but Sherman seemed polite and professional; very direct, but so what?
Sometimes, I have a sneaking suspicion that to get folks' minds off the bad economy and our loss of liberty, that they stage stuff like this.

Black Sci-Fi said...

The promotion of cognitive dissonance (violence is good / violence is bad) by professional contact sport promoters is running rampant and is the crux of this self-realized contraversy. I am reminded that those who think they can control the mob by displays of violence can in an instant face the very mob that they sought to exploit. This also applies to the desire of very powerful nations to wage a "clean" war, until someone (Lt. Calley-My Lai Massacre) goes off-script. Or, in the case of the Iran Contra investigation, someone tells it like it REALLY is.


I need "them" to know we are not "them."
Nor do we want to be "them."
I see so many of US tone down ourselves to share a panel, a soundstage or a film w/them.
Did they really think because we were forced to drop our native tongue that we would eventually speak 'the king's english'?
All we have is a gang of racist wp whom disrespect us in every aspect of society then expect us TO TAKE their (in)sincere apology.
AJ McCarron's mom hadn't so much as uttered a peep to a rat in her home against any of her son's other opponents but then you have one of the youngest Heisman trophy winner's ever, speech/language called into question.
And don't gimme that "so what am I 'posed to talk/act like, ghetto?" No! Being Black doesn't equate to savagery & broken patios or brogue. Because as demonstrated here, by Sherman, articulated his points extremely well while still BEING a black man responding to white power.
His decorum in this interview vs. skip was alright w/me.
I like what I saw.
We're the trendsetters on this planet no matter what.
True to form "they'll" imitate US & when a wp does what Sherman did they'll say "he/she has a right to be cocky."
What's crazy is wp have shown tremendous confidence in race science/eugenics, race/sociology/psychology/physiology on record both audibly & visually w/o facts to support the opinion, beLIEf or myth put out there.
Don't fine me for race essentialism CDV. I'm working on it. Promise.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

It's funny that Joe Namath's famous victory prediction is still so admired but Sherman's exultation in having saved his team's season (and outplayed a receiver who had previously insulted him) with a fantastic play is being so vilified. Yes, he's a bit of a loudmouth and braggart, but as a player his opponents can get their payback on the field. If Sherman can back it up, more power to him.

Sherman's was also the only post game interview I've ever seen worth watching. The NFL is so humorless that it ought to welcome a little Randy Savage/Ric Flair style.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I loved what Sherman said to Skip, something like, "I answered your question and I know why you have me here and I am telling you, I am not having that. I am so far above you, you couldn't even understand."
Assertive black, puzzled white.

Sherman has apologized, I think for saying what he said, but not for what he meant when it comes to this interview with Skip. He apologized for singling out Crabtree, though.

As a white person, talking about things like these and understanding what's going on between Sherman and the white gaze, I am told I am anti-white racist and my intelligence is questioned.

A lot of white folks will bring up race and IQ stats and then just laugh as you try to talk them out of that. Race essentialism? what can you do?

OldPolarBear said...

I follow football hardly at all -- I sometimes say that "I didn't get the sports gene." So before a blog I read linked to that interview, I can't say I had ever heard of Richard Sherman. But after I watched it, I just about love the guy. He totally pwned that "Skip" person (still have no idea who HE is but he seems like a big nobody).

Trudy at gradient lair:


also had a fantastic take on this.

To the extent that, in the past, I have seen "news" items in the couple of weeks running up to the Super Bowl, they are pretty much always about trash talking. There are all these sportswriters, maybe thousands of them, hanging out in the host city, bored out of their minds mostly and desperate for a "story." So usually, it's some guy said something (or not) and then some guy says something back and on it goes.

Also, end-zone celebration dances are ubiquitous. Sometimes the player gets called out for one that is "excessive," which I guess Sherman did, and really, that should be the end of that story.

Tateroid said...

The only problems I had with Sherman's "outburst" were 1) there are 52 other guys on that Seattle team that got them to that point. It's not Richard Sherman's victory alone to claim. Different from Ali who was a solo athlete. And 2) directing a zinger at Crabtree was uncalled-for. Although if you watched the game you could see they had been going at each other all evening. Richard, that final pick was a beautiful thing, so, credit to you, and best of luck against Denver -- you may need it.
For the record, if it matters, I am a white middle-aged 49ers fan.

chauncey devega said...

What about white athletes who have been for more direct and verbose and unapologetic?

I think he was a confident jerk...just like most is not the majority of pro athletes. Why not? In his position I would do the same thing. Ought there to be a different standard for non white elite athletes?

chauncey devega said...

Keep your facts to yourself. I would love to hear your extended thoughts on this matter btw as you know much more about sports than I do. Pen up a guest post if you have time.

tateroid said...

Chauncey, I am not delighted by arrogant jerk athletes regardless of color. I am not advocating any color-based differential standard.

What I am saying is there is a different standard for solo vs team athletes. Ali was out there on his own -- but Sherman was not -- it takes more than one cornerback to make up a football team. I'm just saying Sherman's teammates deserved more out of him. He iced the cake, for sure, but he didn't bake it.

chauncey devega said...

That I can cosign.