In case you missed it, being one of the Americans who has decided not to subsidize young men permanently crippling their brains to slake our blood-lust, the NFC Championship game yielded an instant classic moment. Star Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman first mocked San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree, whom he had just bested, then set a new high for post-game jerkdom when he screamed into the camera during a post-game interview,
“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.”
I understand that the player was excited and jacked-up over his play and his team’s victory, and I assumed that once he calmed down, he would regret bombarding poor Erin Andrews with a macho rant when she asked a straightforward question. Nonetheless, when you act like that on national television, you are going to get criticized no matter who you are or what the justification. (Sherman apologized later.) Ah, but if you are in the white guilt and race-baiting business, even such an open-and-shut case as this becomes fodder for dark pronouncements about America’s racist culture. And so it was that over at the sports site Deadspin, Greg Howard announced that Sherman’s foolishness wasn’t being mocked far and wide because it was rude, arrogant, uncalled for and certifiably strange, but because he is black.
Wrote Howard, in part:
“When you’re a public figure, there are rules. Here’s one: A public personality can be black, talented, or arrogant, but he can’t be any more than two of these traits at a time. It’s why antics and soundbites from guys like Brett Favre, Johnny Football and Bryce Harper seem almost hyper-American, capable of capturing the country’s imagination, but black superstars like Sherman, Floyd Mayweather, and Cam Newton are seen as polarizing, as selfish, as glory boys, as distasteful and perhaps offensive. It’s why we recoil at Kanye West’s rants, like when West, one of the greatest musical minds of our generation, had the audacity to publicly declare himself a genius (was this up for debate?), and partly why, over the six years of Barack Obama’s presidency, a noisy, obstreperous wing of the GOP has seemed perpetually on the cusp of calling him “uppity.” Barry Bonds at his peak was black, talented, and arrogant; he was a problem for America. Joe Louis was black, talented, and at least outwardly humble; he was “a credit to his race, the human race,” as Jimmy Cannon once wrote. All this is based on the common, very American belief that black males must know their place, and more tellingly, that their place is somewhere different than that of whites. It’s been etched into our cultural fabric that to act as anything but a loud, yet harmless buffoon or an immensely powerful, yet humble servant is overstepping. It’s uppity. It is, as Fox Sports’s Kayla Knapp tweeted last night, petrifying.”
What do you say: malicious, deluded, dishonest, or just stupid beyond all measure? Whichever it was, and there is no fifth choice, it was irresponsible for Howard to author this piece, and for Deadspin to run it.
The easy answer to Howard’s contention is that nobody in the public eye can get away for long with being arrogant, except for one famous individual, whom I will name after quickly listing just some of those of many colors, genders and creeds who have paid the price in various ways for prominently displaying the trait: Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich, Marion Barry, Michael Bloomberg, Newt Gingrich, Antonin Scalia, Alex Rodriguez, William F. Buckley, Gore Vidal, Dennis Rodman, the Williams sisters, Ted Williams, Rickey Henderson, Pete Rose, Joe Namath, General Douglas MacArthur, Tiger Woods, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Jack Johnson, Ray Charles, Donald Rumsfeld, Bill Russell, Christopher Hitchens, Keith Olberman, Donald Trump…how much time do you have? The one exception in my lifetime, a man whose arrogance didn’t stop him from being one of the most popular and honored athletes of all time, would be Mohammad Ali. He was, you will note, a black man, and among the most popular of all heavyweight boxing champions, certainly as popular at Joe Louis.. The most arrogant of the champs was probably Jack Johnson (whose fictionalized story was told in “The Great White Hope”), and indeed Jackson would fit Howard’s thesis…if it were, say, 1910 rather than a hundred years later. (The most arrogant of the white heavyweight boxing champs was probably Max Baer. He was not especially popular. Too arrogant, you know.)
A writer trying to make the difficult case that Sherman was being punished less for his ridiculous outburst than for his race has a high burden of proof, which Howard doesn’t even attempt to meet. Can he find an example of a remotely similar rant by a white man that was not greeted with disdain? No. Frankly, I can’t think of anything similar by anyone, unless it is Howard Dean’s infamous “Dean Scream” after the Iowa Caucus in 2004, which effectively ended his run for the presidency as well as his political career. Last I looked, Dean was white, and yes, the criticism he received was excessive.
The examples Howard does cite are beyond belief. Barry Bonds was a surly, defiant, almost intentionally unattractive presence in baseball, and that was before he started cheating with steroids. All of the claims that Bonds’ critics were motivated by race magically evaporated when white stars Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire were linked to PEDs and were similarly pilloried, though Bonds was worse than either. I guess Howard missed that chapter. And Kanye West—who needs to resort to prejudice to find Kanye West objectionable? West is a talented rapper if you admire misogynist patter; he may also be the preeminent loud-mouth narcissist on the planet. Some think he is obnoxious because he fathered a child (which he inflicted with the name North West) with a Kardashian, which is a crime against the gene pool (the fewer Kardashians the better); some, like me, hold the fact that he used a telethon to accuse President Bush of intentionally withholding aid from New Orleans after Katrina against him, or, also like me, they find his using his crypto-wife as soft porn fodder in a rap-video as repugnant. Or perhaps they just think a star whose reaction to a little ribbing on a comedy show is a twitter rant like this…
…displays the emotional maturity of a toddler. Whatever the reason one chooses to dislike West’s personality, he is a jerk, guilty of perpetual, predictable, serial jerk behavior, as reliable as a well-tuned watch. Attributing criticism of his conduct to racism is laughable and desperate, like attributing criticism of Barack Obama’s performance in the White House to racism…and Howard does this, too.
Like others, including, for some reason, the hacks at MSNBC, Howard cites carefully harvested racist tweets following Sherman’s rant as support for his analysis. Yes, there are ugly racists out there, and morons, and the twitterverse is teeming with all sorts of sad mutations of humanity. And anyone who wants to waste their time can cull similar junk about any public figure, black or white, left or right; for example, Michelle Malkin’s cite Twitchy specializes in finding the most hateful and idiotic tweets aimed at conservatives. Howard resorts to this pathetic evidence of nothing because he has nothing better to support his provocative title.
Richard Sherman’s meltdown was poor sportsmanship that reflected badly on himself and his team, and most of the criticism of it was justified. Howard’s accusation is an insult to everyone who reacted correctly to a young man who needs to learn that proclaiming one’s own virtues in a shout is bad form no matter how good you are, and the Deadspin essay was both naked race-baiting and lousy advocacy. Is he black? I have no idea, but if he is, I’m sure he’ll attribute this post to racism too.
Pointer: Bob Bartlett