Richard Sherman's Best Behavior

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

It's worth heading over to Deadspin for a moment and checking out both Greg Howard's penetrating piece on the reaction to Richard Sherman and Samer Kalef's aggregation of the racist bile directed his way. Podhoretz was responding to a tweet he sent out asserting that Sherman was a "role model for today's Taliban youth," presumably because ... I actually don't know. And neither did Podhoretz who deleted the tweet and claimed it was just a joke. The tweet from Iguodala just makes me sad, mostly because it reflects a rather ancient strain of thought in black America that holds that men like Richard Sherman are the reason we can't have nice things. 

A few points of biography: Richard Sherman is a the son of sanitation worker and teacher. He finished second in his class in high school and then went to Stanford. He graduated from Stanford with a 3.9 GPA. Here is how Sherman describes his introduction to the school:

 "I was with kids from prestigious private schools, and they were drawing comparisons between Plato and Aristotle," says Sherman. "A lot went over my head. I hadn't even read The Iliad yet. I had to check out all these books just so I could know what everybody was talking about."

Here is what Richard Sherman is doing now:

Beverly and Kevin now live in a well-landscaped community in Compton, but she still works for Children's Services and he still drives his truck every morning at 4 a.m., a Seahawks sticker plastered across his helmet. Their home is wallpapered with pictures of their children: Richard, Branton and 22-year-old Kristyna, who runs a hair salon out of the Shermans' garage. (Seahawks receiver Sidney Rice is a client.) The first photo you see, upon opening the front door, is of Richard's commencement ceremony at Stanford.

Across the street lives an English teacher from Dominguez named Michelle Woods who charters a bus every spring break for Dominguez students to visit colleges throughout California. "Most of them think Cal State is their only option," she says. When Sherman was at Stanford, he made sure the bus swung by Palo Alto, and he led the tours himself. "I'm here; you can be too," he told the group every year as he advised them on classes and grants.

Here is how Sherman describes himself:

I'm an awkward guy. People used to tell me all the time, You're not from here. And that's the way I felt, like somebody took me from somewhere else and dropped me down into this place. I was strange because I went to class, did the work, read the books and was still pretty good at sports. If you're like me, people think you're weird. They pull you in different directions. But those people aren't going where you're going. I know the jock stereotype—cool guy, walking around with your friends, not caring about school, not caring about anything. I hate that stereotype. I want to destroy it. I want to kill it.

I don't think this is what people think when they see Sherman trash-talking. There's some weird notion in our society  that holds that trash-talking is for the classless and stupid. I don't know what it means to be "classless" in an organization like the NFL. And then there is the racism from onlookers, who are incapable of perceiving in Sherman an individual, and instead see the sum of all American fears—monkey, thug, terrorist, nigger.

And then there is us, ashamed at our own nakedness, at our humanity. Racism is a kind of fatalism, so seductive, that it enthralls even its victims. But we will not get out of this by being on our best behavior—sometimes it has taken our worse. There's never been a single thing wrong with black people that the total destruction of white supremacy would not fix. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/01/richard-shermans-best-behavior/283198/