Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman first came to my and many other fans’ attention after the Seahawks defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Conference Final in 2014 en route to their triumph in Super Bowl XLVIII. In a post-game interview with Erin Andrews of FOX, Sherman trash-talked 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree. When I saw the interview I thought Sherman was a total loudmouth.
This outburst would lead to a plethora of media appearances and commercial endorsements. I was dismayed by this development because the attention being paid to Sherman had nothing to do with his ability to play football. But like it or not, America revolves around celebrity culture and the brasher, the better. How else does one explain Republicans choosing Donald Trump to be their presidential standard bearer?
But if celebrity does give one a public platform, occasionally that platform can be used to take a principled yet not necessarily popular stand. In an age where Black Lives Matter has become an article of faith among African-American celebrities and public figures with white liberal guilt, Sherman stands out as someone who is willing to row his boat against the current. Sherman is the rare celebrity and public figure, black or otherwise, who is willing to say “All Lives Matter” unconditionally.
Other celebrities and public figures who have dared to say “All Lives Matter” have been publicly excoriated and forced to apologize. Among them are former Democrat presidential candidate Martin O’Malley, Smith College President Kathleen McCartney, while Jennifer Lopez was compelled to delete a tweet that contained #AllLivesMatter. Just last month, the Canadian Tenors issued an apology after vocalist Remigio Pereira inserted “all lives matter” into the lyrics of O Canada at last month’s MLB All-Star Game in San Diego and kicked him out of the group. Following a performance at the RBC Bluefest in Ottawa, Ian Astbury of The Cult also apologized for using the term “all lives matter.” Astbury tweeted, “I sincerely and deeply apologize everyone I offended by using the phrase ‘all lives matter’… I fully support #blacklivesmatter and wished to show my solidarity. So disheartened to know that I have offended people of color. Thank You for enlightening me that this phrase is offensive. I shall never use it again.”
Blubbering apologies such as these make Richard Sherman stand out head and shoulders above everyone else. Sherman got into the Black Lives Matter discussion last September when a BLM supporter put an image of Sherman and teammate Marshawn Lynch with the caption, “When we gon kill these KKKrakas Bro.” An online article written in Sherman’s name came out in response to the image of Sherman and Lynch. Although Sherman went on record to say he did not pen the article, he had plenty of criticism for Black Lives Matter drawing upon his experiences straight outta Compton:
Dealt with a best friend getting killed … it was two 35-year-old black men. Wasn’t no police officer involved, wasn’t anybody else involved, and I didn’t hear anybody shouting “black lives matter” then… and I think that’s the point we need to get to is that we need to deal with our own internal issues before we move forward and start pointing fingers and start attacking other people. We need to solidify ourselves as people and deal with our issues, because I think as long as we have black-on-black crime and, you know, one black man killing another … if black lives matter, then it should matter all the time.
Sherman reaffirmed these views in an interview with writer Domonique Foxworth of ESPN’s The Undefeated late last month:
It’s hard to formulate an opinion [on Black Lives Matter] and generalize because they have several different messages. Some of them are peaceful and understandable and some of them are very radical and hard to support. Any time you see people who are saying, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ and then saying it’s time to kill police, then it is difficult to stand behind that logic. They are generalizing police just like they are asking police not to generalize us. It is very hypocritical. So, in that respect, I find it difficult to fully support that movement.
I stand by what I said that All Lives Matter and that we are human beings. And speaking to police, I want African-Americans and everybody else treated decently. I want them treated like human beings. And I also want the police treated like human beings. I don’t want police officers just getting knocked off in the street who haven’t done anything wrong.
Not everyone was pleased with Sherman’s stance. Maxwell Strachan, senior editor of the Huffington Post wrote:
“I think everybody understands all lives matter,” President Barack Obama said last October. But the issue with the phrase, he explained, lies in the context from which it was born. “The notion [behind “All Lives Matter”] was somehow [that] saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ was reverse racism, or [that it was] suggesting other people’s lives didn’t matter or police officers’ lives didn’t matter.” That was never the intent of a movement born out of a desire to help black people, not hurt anyone else. And that is exactly what “All Lives Matter” crowd misunderstands: For all lives to truly matter, black lives need to matter more.
In other words, all people are equal, but some people are more equal than others.
The reality here is that Sherman represents a threat to the Black Lives Matter movement. Here is a young black man who has succeeded and wants to see others succeed on their own terms as well. But here is a young black man who refuses to blame others for any shortcomings be they his own or within his community. Here is a young black man who says it is incumbent upon the black community to get its own house in order. Here is a young black man who refuses to pillory the police for the sake of pillorying the police. Here is a young black man speaking of individual responsibility, a concept that has become a radical position in 2016. Here is a young black man who emphasizes character over color, yet another increasingly radical position in our times. Richard Sherman is a young black man, but he is also his own man.
As Sherman put it just the other day during Seahawks’ training camp, “Come on, get past the color of people’s skins. Nobody gets to pick the color of their skins.”
We might not get pick the color of our skin, but we do get to choose our character. Richard Sherman had made his choice. What character will succeeding generations of young black males choose?