On Richard Sherman: The Life of a Multifaceted, Black Athlete

Being a black athlete at a small liberal arts school was at times a difficult experience.  I enjoyed some success on the basketball court, our team was extremely successful, and I forged some relationships that will last a lifetime. However, it was not easy being a black athlete on a mostly white campus.

There was a stigma attached to athletes.  At such a highly selective school, athletes were deemed “less than” as some believed that academic requirements were ignored so that we could get into the school.  On top of that, there was a thought, by some, that the black students that attended were “affirmative action cases” who only were admitted because we were black.

There were times when I fully embraced this stigma and went to class in basketball gear as a way of personal protest.  I made sure that it was a day when I was best prepared, but I needed the professors to know that I played basketball, that I was black, and that I deserved to be there.  I needed them to know that it was ok for me to be black, a baller, and a student, all at the same damn time.  It was ok for me to scream and cuss on the court and throw an elbow or two. I was serving as the “physical presence” for our team, but after a weekend of games, I was still able to go to my room on a Sunday night and write a coherent paper.  I am human and I should have been (and in most cases was) allowed to be fully me without apologizing for my humanity.

Richard Sherman is human, too.

Seconds after making a play that sent his team to the Super Bowl, Sherman screamed through an interview with one of America’s reporting sweethearts.  Outrage ensued and twitter broke as a loud black man with locks in his hair screamed in the vicinity of a celebrity white female reporter.  Call the police.  Some people even asked if she was safe.  On a football field post-game with cameras and thousands of people around, they wondered if she was safe.

The sports “purists” said that this kind of trash talk shouldn’t happen; that this wasn’t “old school.”  Nothing like what Larry Bird did on a regular basis.  Old school.  Nothing like sending hockey “goons” onto the ice to start a fight.  It wasn’t old school enough.  I digress.  Others lauded the “rawness” of Sherman’s outburst.  Soon, immediately actually, the racial comments started.  Some took to Twitter and called Sherman the “n-word.”  Others used charged language like “thug” or “animal.”  Commentary has continued for days.  Sherman wrote an article about the situation.  Journalists, sports commentators, and others are still talking.  And thankfully, Sherman is still talking too.

In a recent press conference, Sherman was asked to react, to the reaction that his interview received.  He said that what bothered him the most was the fact that folk were throwing around the word “thug” in reference to him as a replacement for the “n-word.”  It was said with a certain sad bravado.  A genuine reflection on a very real experience.  He was lamenting that fact that his very dignity as a human being, as a man, was being denied because of an adrenaline-fueled post-game interview.  I needed Sherman to say that, we needed Sherman to say that.  We needed that from the same man that screamed about being the best corner in the world.  One who was about going against a “mediocre” receiver to be the man that pointed out- with the aplomb of a highly trained sociologist – the kind of code language that is so prevalent in today’s media, sports media in particular.

America isn’t ready for a multifaceted black athlete.  One who is free to express himself in the fullness of his emotions before, during, or after a game and who can in a different moment captivate a press conference with a thoughtful description of who he is, where he is from, and how he has experienced the last couple of days.  Disagree with him if you’d like.  Say he’s overreacting, or even name how there are instances of white people being called thugs, but please allow my brother to be a human, one who is loud, black, smart and unpredictable, all at the same damn time.

Timothy L. Jones affectionately known as “PT” is Senior Pastor at Community Baptist Church in New Haven, CT. A native of Richmond, VA, he played basketball at Amherst College while majoring in Psychology. He received his Master of Divinity from Boston University School of Theology in 2009 with a specialization in Multicultural Theology. PT is currently pursuing his PH.D. at Boston University in Practical Theology with a focus on homiletics and the building of multiethnic community. He is joined in life and ministry by his wife Nelly and his children Sofia Esperanza and Ezekiel Levi.