The Southern Gentleman vs the Compton Thug
I don’t pay close attention to football. I initially intended to not watch this season at all, but the surprising success of the Chiefs eroded my righteous resolve (and then the Chiefs failed epically like only the Chiefs can). Now I’m very interested to see how this contest plays out.
The subtext of marijuana will be good for a few jokes, but there is another subtext lurking beneath the match up of the best offense going against the best defense: the southern gentleman vs. the Compton thug.
After Richard Sherman, the thug in this epic battle, displayed what is commonly being referred to as a lack of “class” for his post-game trash-talking, I looked around for a little backstory. Bay Area Sports Guy has a decent analysis of the 49ers loss that includes this:
Then there was the interception caused by Sherman, who minutes later said, ”When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s what you’re going to get.” Again, Kaepernick forces a pass to Crabtree in the corner. This is not Crabtree’s fault. It’s Kaepernick’s for continuing to force an unlikely play, especially over a cornerback with great ball skills like Sherman.
Sherman is an ass of epic proportions, which we already knew. But to me it’s still surprising. I covered a game for Comcast several years back at Stanford Stadium, and after the Cardinal won I talked to Sherman on the field. Up to that point and for a while afterward, he was probably the nicest, smartest, most engaging interview subject I had ever encountered. Perhaps Crabtree’s refusal to label Sherman as the league’s best cornerback during his press conference on Thursday led to his postgame outburst, which caused some debate (as pretty much everything does these days).
This isn’t about being a “thug.” It’s about actively trying to rankle the guys you just beat. Maybe I’m getting old. I find trash talk before and during games to be quite entertaining, but afterward I don’t see the point. I also wouldn’t throw food at an injured All-Pro while he’s carted off the field either, so what do I know?
This depiction of Sherman is interesting, because the writer appears to be trying to reconcile a direct experience he had interviewing Sherman with the image that is now being solidified by sports writers of Sherman as a loud-mouthed thug.
For a direct repudiation, Dave Zirin at The Nation has the best take, and it’s worth reading in full. Here’s a good portion of it:
Get ready for two weeks of stories that pit the polished Peyton Manning against his supposed antithesis, Richard Sherman. Get ready for two weeks of interesting coverage about how the best quarterback in the game and probable 2013 MVP takes on the best cornerback in the game and the probable Defensive Player of the Year at the Super Bowl. Also get ready for two weeks of utterly uninteresting coverage that paints Peyton as a Southern gentleman in shining armor who will hopefully slay Richard Sherman, Compton’s “loudmouth” dread-locked dragon. There will be more articles, tweets and commentaries from the media bemoaning Richard Sherman’s lack of “class”. There will be even more tweets from so-called fans that sound like press releases from a White Citizen’s Council. There will be a running loop of Sherman’s already “insta-classic” WWE-infused “promo” rant after Sunday’s victory over their rival the 49ers.
There will be more stomach-churning racial coding than an episode of Fox N Friends featuring Ann Coulter and Billy Packer. There will be right-wingers like John Podhoretz on Twitter, the very people who always whine that the culture is becoming “too soft”, “too feminized” and “too PC” who are as aghast as plantation belles stumbling toward the fainting couch over his behavior.
There will be less discussion about why so many of the chattering classes demand “class” from a game where people’s legs are broken in half and then replayed endlessly for our entertainment. There will be less discussion about the hypocrisy of demanding that “perfect gentlemen” play a game so dangerous that its own players, and even the president, wouldn’t want their own children on the field. There will be far too many sportswriters not admitting what Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel tweeted: that Richard Sherman is a welcome relief from pre-programmed athletes who “play one game at a time, good lord willing, play one game at a time… good lord willing.”
Sherman is the embodiment of what sports writing legend Robert Lipsyte once said to me was his true initial attraction to Muhammad Ali. “He made my job so incredibly easy,” Lipsyte said. “I just had to write down what he said and the copy was gold.” In fact Sherman has pointed to Ali as an inspiration, saying, “[Ali] understood how to manipulate the world. When he said, ‘The champ is here,’ he probably wasn’t that cocky. He created a persona. He was a leader, an entertainer, and he knew how to break people down in the ring. I didn’t really care about boxing, but I wanted to be like Ali.”
There will also be less discussion of who Richard Sherman actually is, and the genius of both his preparation and style of play. In fact, when it comes to smarts, skills and psychological gamesmanship, Sherman, is in many respects the cornerback version of Peyton Manning. Just as Manning treats every trip to the line of scrimmage like he’s Hannibal Lecter trying to get into the head of Clarice Starling—OMAHA!—Sherman has a deeply cerebral method to his perceived madness. Read Lee Jenkins’ profile of the Stanford graduate in the July 2013 issue of Sports Illustrated, titled Warning: Don’t Take The Bait. As Jenkins writes, “Whether you think cornerback Richard Sherman of the (NFC champion?) Seahawks is a smacktalk poet laureate or just another loudmouth doesn’t matter. He’s a shrewd, dedicated lockdown defender who doesn’t mind getting on his opponents’ nerves—in fact, he prefers it that way.”
However the pundits and writers try to breakdown this match-up, the weed state showdown is shaping up to be one hell of a Super Bowl.