There was a moment in the NFL version of the Hatfields and McCoys that could have ended the blood feud. It came at the end of the game Sunday, after Seattle’s Richard Sherman batted a pass intended for San Francisco 49er Michael Crabtree into the arms of a teammate, causing an interception that would seal the victory for the Seahawks, sending them to the Super Bowl.
Sherman walked over to Crabtree with his arm extended as a show of come-togetherness but Crabtree pushed the defender’s helmet hard. So goes the way of the most heated and hated rivalry in sports today.
It was this emotion, that shunning of sportsmanship, that was still ringing in the 24-year-old’s helmet when he walked off the field and onto national television to call Crabtree “sorry” and he would later add “mediocre.”
It was the face of Sherman and his dark skin and flailing dreads that had some people take to Twitter to call Sherman a “thug” and a “n–ger.”
From behind a computer keyboard and a 140-character-limit wielded by the hands of the ignorant, a 24-year-old Stanford graduate was assaulted with arguably some of the most troubling words in the American lexicon.
This is the battle and the passion and the ugliness of American history played out in violent sport, rolled into a sound bite and then released into the Internet-mosphere. It is a Twitter-sized snapshot of the trouble that white America has with an outspoken black athlete. It was a moment that captured both the hate that the Seahawks and 49ers have for one another on the field and, more importantly, the deep-rooted hate some feel when a black man speaks freely about his legacy.
During the interview Sherman told Erin Andrews: “I’m the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get. Don’t you ever talk about me … Don’t you open your mouth about the best or I’m gonna shut it for you real quick.”
Sherman’s behavior and verbiage was succinct and efficient but it wasn’t even remotely “thuggish.” He didn’t speak in slang, he wasn’t punctuating the air with gang signs, he didn’t use vulgarity. In fact, he didn’t do anything even remotely aggressive. If anything, his loud and egotistical rant was much more WWE than NWA.
It was typical-football-Sherman, which has never been, nor will ever be, what is expected. The Twitter response was more telling about how far we haven’t come as a nation, on the heels of the birthday of a man who dreamed more for us.