Why The Problem is Bigger Than Richard Sherman

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By Derek Fisher

Richard Sherman was everywhere on Jan. 20. On MLK day, oddly enough, his NFC Championship postgame interview rant, press conference comments and Tweets played on an endless loop for everyone to see, to digest, to weigh in on. That’s what we do now, though: We weigh in on things, almost all of us, because almost all of us have a platform with which to do so. It’s not a good thing.

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Some of us – far from the majority – are able to at least somewhat decipher a narrative and sensibly break it down to a molecular blueprint; those people are the best stewards of the ubiquitous social platforms we’re all doomed to live with. Most of us just throw a gallon of paint at the wall, point at it and grunt as loudly as possible. That’s why so many racially charged Tweets were aimed at Sherman after his outbursts, and that’s also why so many righteously indignant types rushed to defend him via social media. Those two extremes of thought suffer from the same strain of myopia: The mouth-breathing masses think Sherman is an undeserving and underdeveloped animal. Similarly ignorant folks from the other side of the coin think Sherman is above reproach, just because he bears the weight of that stereotype, as a black man.

Neither approach is correct, but of course it does come down to race. Black-white relations continue to be strained in America due in very large part to the behavior of four types of people: Whites who are inherently and destructively racist, blacks who are inherently and destructively racist, blacks who use their skin color as leverage while simultaneously telling whites to ignore it, and whites who encourage and enable that behavior in blacks. This latter phenomenon is widely available for consumption and analysis – I call it White Men Can’t Jump syndrome.

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I used to think the fodder for America’s perpetual unearthing of news cycle goldmines like Sherman, and their subsequent dissection and attendant pissing matches,  were the outliers: those scant people from every race who defy accepted social norms and in doing so, distort their particular race’s behavioral median, if not its mean. In that model, the median then pushes forth a stereotype as it inches upward, and the cycle begins. I still believe that; only now I see the problem is more complex. There are so many outliers they almost cease to be outliers, and instead take the form of a very vocal minority – with some added help. Eccentricity and outlier-hood are accepted by those who stand to benefit from the availability of such displays of self. Some of those selves are worse than others, and some of the more exaggerated cases happen to find exaggerated visibility, to no one’s surprise. It’s a simple case of life informing art, which then informs life.

I also used to buy into the notion that races were similar, into the idea that skin color was irrelevant, in that idea’s truest sense. Now I see that is not accurate – though there is no shame in diversity. People are what they are, and that needs to be at least outwardly tolerated – despite the availability of platforms that function as our loudest megaphones, from atop the highest perches we can find.

That doesn’t mean what Sherman did is okay. I don’t care that he was a straight-A student in high school, or that he went to Stanford, that he is involved in philanthropic endeavors or any of that. Those things don’t make him any less of a buffoon. “Getting it” in life is about understanding how to relate to people, how to communicate with them, how to be exactly yourself without necessarily doing it at the expense of anyone. It’s about being gracious and humble, but confident and well-postured at the same time. You don’t learn that in any classroom. That Sherman purportedly excels at a sport doesn’t oblige me to respect him; how he conducted himself on Sunday certainly doesn’t help, either. He is an outlier, and with the help of those with a platform, he too has one. He’s news to some and something to aspire to, to others.

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Sherman apologized on Jan. 21, because of course he did. Everyone seems to do that now, because that’s another tenet of our current society: A scripted apology makes everything go away, because apparently we’ve regressed to the mores of toddlers. That trend is sickening enough, but it would have honestly been better if Sherman had continued to play the heel and embraced his shortcomings – but he didn’t. And so, he is now twofold the problem: not only is he an outlier, he’s an outlier who doesn’t truly accept his status (or his handlers don’t, though he doesn’t seem to be very well handled). In doing so, he’s muddled the debate. Now the righteous indignants can double down on their stance, just as the racists can reaffirm theirs. They can start the flame war anew.

I don’t like any of it, and I don’t have to like any of it: the racists both black and white, the apologists, the enablers, the idiots on the perches with the megaphones. But, get used to it. This is what we’ve built.

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