Getty Images/Photo Illustration by Harrison Mooney
Seattle Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman’s post-NFC Championship Game rant was superb, beyond the obvious entertainment value. It was superb because of the way it took the piss out of so many hypocrites and lazy typecasting in sports media and fandom.
The “act like you been there” crowd had to answer how a player can act like he’s been where Sherman was: Embarrassing his arch rival to win a title for his team on a defensive play. The “we want athletes to be more real!” crowd had to square that with bristling at Sherman’s WWE-style callout of Michael Crabtree. (“OK, maybe not that real.”) The casual racists in sports who throw around the word “thug” to describe any young black athlete that doesn’t conform to their expectations had to explain how a Stanford student-athlete that dedicates time to helping at-risk kids to get school supplies is, in fact, a thug.
Is it because he’s brash? Bold? Loud? And yet Muhammad Ali was all three, and is celebrated for it.
Mostly, Sherman’s rant was superb because the reaction to it revealed so many moldy tropes that were easily dismissed. Which is why it was it’s so disappointing to read Sherman’s comments on Wednesday, in which he traffics in a lazy stereotype about, of all things, hockey.
“The only reason it bothers me is because it seems like it’s the accepted way of calling somebody the n-word nowadays,” Sherman said. “It’s like everyone else said the n-word, and then they say thug and that’s fine. That’s where it kind of takes me back. It’s kind of disappointing because they know. What’s the definition of a thug? Really?”
“Maybe I’m talking loudly and doing something … talking like I’m not supposed to, but there was a hockey game when they didn’t even play hockey,” Sherman said. “They threw the puck aside and started fighting. I saw that and said, ‘Oh man, I’m the thug? What’s going on here?’ Geez. I’m really disappointed in being called a thug.”
FORGET IT RICHARD WE’RE TOTALLY TEAM CRABTREE NOW …
No, but seriously: Isn’t this just varying smears of the same typecast?
We obviously don’t expect Sherman to understand the nuances of hockey fighting or hockey fighters. Not like we do, at least. But if it’s the Vancouver Canucks vs. Calgary Flames line brawl he’s referencing … well, who’s the “thug” in that? It’s 10 guys acting on the instructions of their coaches, on their years of having the necessity of toughness drummed into them as essentials for success in the National Hockey League.
Look, you can impugn hockey fighting as an archaic sideshow whose time has passed, but that needs to be separated from impugning hockey fighters. The ones that sacrifice their own health to play in this league. The ones that are paid to perform a task that many of them don’t relish, but none of them can refuse because there’s a younger model in the AHL ready to claim their job. The ones that hold true, perhaps naively, some semblance of honor and justice in what they do.
Sure, there’s thuggery in hockey; but is Shawn Thornton a thug or did he act like one?
The irony here for Sherman: There was a thug in that Calgary vs. Vancouver line brawl. He wasn’t on the ice. He was standing on the Calgary bench, instructing his players to fight for him, and now he’s $25,000 lighter for doing so. And if you don’t think Bob Hartley’s a thug, then you don’t know the man’s reputation going all the way back to his minor league coaching days in the 1990s.
(And hey, what do you know: Thugs can’t be categorized by color! There you go, Richard!)
This might seem like a lot of digital ink to spill on an off-handed remark by Richard Sherman at a Super Bowl press conference, but it’s the same indolent stereotyping from which the man is defending himself. And here’s why it matters: There are going to be more people that read that line from him than are going to read every game story on NHL.com tonight. It’s going to be seen on SportsCenter before a single hockey highlight. It gives the Peter Gammonses of the world fodder to claim that the Tortorella affair does in fact damage the League’s reputation among casual sports fans. And that guy writes about a sport that's carried today on the acned backs of steroid users!
There are thugs in sports. But Richard Sherman isn’t one of them, and neither are two, four or 10 NHL players engaging in a fight.
So our advice to Richard Sherman: Take up the Quad City Mallards’ offer to join their CHL team.
And then, please, feel free to replace the head coach for his postgame press conference. Because you have a gift, sir.
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