Richard Sherman and a Higher Standard

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In the final seconds of the NFC Championship, Richard Sherman made a spectacular play to keep the Seahawks in the lead, clinching their trip to the Super Bowl. It was athleticism at its highest execution. But, then he said some stuff that made people mad, and that has since taken the limelight of the mainstream sports press. I was mad, too. Or at least a little upset and bothered.

Before we get into why Sherman's comments upset me, let’s get rid of the hype.

First of all, it isn’t about race. Some cowards hide behind the white mask of social media and take things too far because it’s safe to be a faceless bigot. If you're upset by Sherman's comments because he's black, then you have a hateful agenda and you're missing the point. It isn’t about that.

You can also throw out the stuff about it being an emotional moment. Everyone was emotional. Getting to the Superbowl is the dream of every player that walks onto a professional football field. There wasn’t an unemotional player or coach or fan in the stadium, on either side of the fence. So, this is a silly point.

And then there's the stuff about football being a game of self-promotion and boastfulness. It's here where I have to agree. It’s a violent, high-contact sport, and it goes without saying that celebration will occur – in the endzone, after a sack, after a first down. It’s part of the game. The question is: where is the line drawn between these traditions and excess?

After all, we love our players for their grandstanding as much as for their ability to make plays. We each define what is acceptably sporting. For me, the line is crossed when a player goes from good-natured jibing and boasting to anything mean-spirited. It’s the lack of respect for a fellow athlete – who also puts his body and mind on the line in pursuit of the same goal – that bothers me. Boast all you want, but don’t slander a fellow player.

And you can forget all about the fact that “it happens all the time on the field.” It does. I’m not denying it. What players do when they’re in the arena of a physical sport, in the heat of their desire to win, is between those players. But, when the helmets come off – emotional or not, win or lose – it is time to shake hands.

Maybe Crabtree provoked Sherman, maybe he didn’t. One story claims that Crabtree even tried to fight Sherman last year at a charity event. If he did, that is all the more reason for Sherman to be held to a higher standard. It would prove that in a sport of violence and bone-crushing injuries – a sport that constantly gets flack from the cowards of social media for employing “thugs” – that an athlete can stand above the hype and stereotyping and be a professional sportsman, despite emotion and petty rivalries, and prove cowards wrong about their assumptions.

“Settle it on the field” is a phrase you don’t hear much anymore, but one I heard growing up. For me, that means resolving differences and disputes in a sporting arena, and leaving it there. It also means accepting defeat when it comes and being a gracious winner when you’ve worked hard enough to achieve victory. Bottom line: it's about being a sportsman and a gentleman in a violent game. That is the standard to which we, as fans, should hold all professional football players – despite our allegiances.


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