So, Mr. All Lives Matter—Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman—decided that he was gonna use his latest press conference to do nothing but talk about police violence.
“I think the last couple days, a couple more guys have gotten shot and killed in the middle of the street. More videos have come out of guys getting killed, and I think people are still missing the point,” Sherman said Wednesday. “The reason these guys are kneeling, the reason we’re locking arms, is to bring people together to make people aware that this is not right. It’s not right for people to get killed in the street.”
Wayment. Hole up. You just realized this after more black folks were shot down in the street? So, when you gave your defense of your “All lives matter” stance to The Undefeated in July, the deaths of Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and the more than 300 other black men and women killed by the police in 2015 alone, and the nearly 200 black people killed this year, didn’t move you? When you chose to straddle the fence with that milquetoast, “Can’t we all get along?” arm-in-arm “unity” thang y’all did a couple of weeks ago (I ain’t gonna even call it a protest, because whatever that was was an insult to the definition of the word “protest”) because you all wanted to cover your asses when it came to public opinion, none of those other dead black bodies informed your actions? You expect us to buy this newfound stance?
Nah … as the Double XX Posse once said, I’m not gonna be able to do it.
Here’s the deal. Richard Sherman has been deemed “outspoken” by a media mesmerized by his Compton-to-Stanford backstory, and his epic “I’m better at life than you” evisceration of ESPN’s Skip Bayless. In some ways he’s a contemporary Charles Barkley, wherein an obviously intelligent brother has thoughts and likes to express them. Bet. Ain’t nobody mad at that. But what we tend to miss when we say someone is outspoken is that it doesn’t mean he is also being brave.
It’s like when people say, “I’m just keepin’ it 100.” Typically, what they’re doing is using audacity as a cover for a thought that’s about 100 percent nonsensical. So they’re thirsty for some brownie points for at least having the guts to say something dumb.
I never give them those brownie points.
Being outspoken only works when what you’re saying is well-thought-out and your subsequent actions are in tune with the right side of the right side. If not, it just means that you’re the loudest person in the room who’s ultimately saying nothing … and, more importantly, standing for nothing.
Black folks like throwing around the term “woke,” and I think the concept is a good thing, even if it’s become a bit of a cliché. But in essence, it’s simply a 21st-century synonym for being conscious about society, its inequities and your place within it. Be aware. Get that third eye open.
And people all have their own moment when they become woke. Maybe it’s when you read The Autobiography of Malcolm X as a high school student (the 14-year-old me)? Maybe it’s when you listen to an elder in a barbershop? Or maybe you’re never woke (talking to you, Pastor Mark Burns, although he probably added wokeness to his résumé)? The point of being woke is that when you are finally woke, you understand where you were before and where you should have been. Most importantly, now that you are woke, you now come to the most important part: What are you willing to risk to make change?
And this is where Sherman falls short.
By contrast, Colin Kaepernick put it all on the line. Let me say that again: all on the line. He knelt without asking anyone else to kneel with him. He knelt without telling people what he was doing. He knelt and only explained when asked, and then explained his position perfectly. He clearly understood that his place on the San Francisco 49ers was tenuous, particularly in a league that is so concerned about image that it fines you for having your uniform socks too low. And yet he still knelt. He continues to kneel, even when a recent survey named him the most hated NFL player.
My problem with Sherman is that as Kaepernick and others, like Brandon Marshall, were putting their livelihoods on the line, Sherman was busy undercutting them metaphorically. His “All lives matter” stance—combined with the standard black-on-black, “If you Negroes would only stop killing each other, we wouldn’t have to kill you … ” fallacy—gave aid and comfort to those who want to make dead black bodies about some mythical Fox News fantasy that Black Lives Matter members are shouting for the deaths of police officers. For those people who hate us enough to find endless excuses for allowing the police to kill us, pointing to Sherman’s “All lives matter” stance was a repudiation of the athletes who were putting their livelihoods on the line for a cause.
So again … nah.
One of the greatest things about black folks is that we are the most forgiving people on the face of the earth. We don’t just turn our own cheeks; we also offer up the cheeks of everyone in our family. But one of the worst things about black folks is that we are some of the most forgiving people on the face of the earth. Our natural inclination is to look at Richard Sherman and say, “Well, ya know, it’s more important that he’s now woke and he’s on our side right now.”
Maybe. Maybe not.
Sherman has a right to evolve. He has a right to do right. He has a right to start from this point on to be a clear, unequivocal voice against the oppression of black people. But I also know this. If Sherman is going to step up and become a relevant voice in this struggle against systemic racism in policing, then he’s going to have to be less outspoken and more thoughtful.
Because right now his tactics center on a strategy that tries to be all things to all people, and if you choose to be that black athlete—the one who has one eye on what’s going on in society and the other on your next “Little Voice In Your Stomach” commercial—then it ain’t gonna work. And until Sherman explains whether or not he’s suddenly not Mr. All Lives Matter, I’d suggest that black folks ignore Sherman’s press conferences and instead focus on the black athletes who are risking all for a cause. Because as of right now, I’d follow Colin Kaepernick to the gates of hell, but I wouldn’t follow Richard Sherman across the street.
Lawrence Ross is the author of the Los Angeles Times best-seller The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities. His newest book, Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses, is a blunt and frank look at the historical and contemporary issue of campus racism on predominantly white college campuses. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.