The Race Card

You have doubtless heard about the outrageous behavior of Richard Sherman, cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, after virtually saving the N.F.C. title game for Seattle on Sunday. He not only blew his own horn so loud it drowned out the record crowd, but he also “dissed” his opponent and called Michael Crabtree — the intended receiver on the play in question — a mediocre player, giving the choke sign in the process. He is apparently a fairly bright guy and he has apologized for his behavior, after a fashion: “It’s who I am.” But he has been fined by the league for unsportsmanlike conduct and the talking heads have waded in, so we will doubtless be hearing about this behavior ad nauseam in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.

The marketing people are hovering around Sherman like vultures circling a dead corpse, their mouths positively watering at the thought of the money to be made from this incident. And comments from various Monday morning quarterbacks have ranged from “bush league” to “refreshing,” as everyone and his dog enters into the discussion. But what I found most interesting was the virtual unanimity on “Around The Horn” — ESPN’s showcase for talking heads — in saying that Sherman’s behavior was not “over the top,” that since football is entertainment one would have to give Sherman high marks for the great entertainment value he has provided to spice up our drab, wretched lives. The talking  heads are all sports journalists and doubtless they see only grist for the journalistic mills. They are not known to give high praise for self-restraint and decorum; they prefer their emotions raw and juicy. They called the Seattle quarterback “boring.” I have blogged about this before, so I won’t go there, except to say that this is yet another example the entertainment industry is setting for our kids.

Where I will go is to Sherman’s comment in response to the reaction to his behavior, referring to those who find it offensive as “racist.” This raises a most interesting point. Are we not to judge a person’s behavior as offensive if that person happens to be a member of a minority? Isn’t it possible that Richard Sherman behaved like a jerk and, regardless of his race, that sort of behavior should not be tolerated? If we would be quick to condemn this action of a white player, wouldn’t it be racist NOT to mention it in this case because Sherman is African-American? I would have thought the idea is to treat everyone alike. In a word, are we to look the other way simply because a person happens to be a member of a minority and excuse his or her behavior no matter how offensive it might happen to be? I beg to differ!

I recall some years ago the comments made by an actress in a popular TV show who complained about the fact that she was not getting the attention she thought she deserved; she insisted that this was due to the fact that the folks who handed out awards were sexist. In fact, she was a terrible actress and deserved to be overlooked. But she attributed the fact that she was being ignored not to her lack of talent, but to prejudice on the part of those who should know better, as she saw it. I suppose it is easier live with the fact that our critics are racist or sexist than to admit that we have no talent or are behaving like fools: one finds comfort in the delusion.

The fact of the matter is that certain types of behavior, when engaged in publicly, are deserving of condemnation. If they were performed in private that’s another question. But public behavior sets an example, good or bad, whether we like to admit it or not. And when it is offensive, it should be duly noted and even condemned — if for no other reason than to send a message to those observing the behavior that such things are unacceptable — regardless of their “entertainment value.” It’s one thing to be tolerant, and I applaud the effort to expand our levels of tolerance in a country founded by Puritans. But it is quite another thing to insist on silence when it is clear that certain types of behavior are simply not to be tolerated. We are urged on all sides not to be “judgmental,” but there are times when judgment is called for. I am not talking about a call to arms, drawing and quartering, much less castration. I am talking about expressing concern and voicing objections. Indifference should not be mistaken for tolerance and held up as exemplary. And whatever “entertainment value” behavior such as that of Richard Sherman might have, it sets a terrible example for young kids watching their heroes parade before them strutting their stuff and ridiculing their opponents. Enough is enough. Some times, it’s just too much, regardless of race, creed, or religion.