The pundits, psychologists and assorted experts tell us that, in our divided world, the one thing that often brings us together is sports. The thrill of victory, even the agony of defeat, stirs healthful rivalries and pits us in spirited competition. In the end, we are united by the understanding that it’s only a game, blah, blah, blah.
But they’re right. Take yesterday’s NFL Championship game between the Seahawks and 49ers, played on the eve of Martin Luther King Day. That thrilling, last-minute victory for Seattle, and the agony of San Francisco’s defeat, clearly brought the nation together in ways we once couldn’t imagine.
On social media, for example.
In the past, communications were slower and more private, and it took days for us to gather in unison. But now, thanks especially to Twitter and Facebook, we can bond instantly.
That’s what has happened in the hours since the final whistle. Sports fans across America quickly came together to talk about what Richard Sherman, the Hawks’ star cornerback, said after the game.
He was wrong, many agreed. And black.
You may have noticed he’s African American, since Sherman made a memorable post-game appearance live on the Fox game broadcast. He had just tipped away a potentially winning pass to 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree in the end zone, and was still hyped, and surprisingly defiant, in victory.
“Well, I’m the best corner in the game!” Sherman shouted into the microphone of sidelines reporter Erin Andrews. “When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you are going to get! Don’t you even talk about me!”
Andrews seemed stunned, thinking maybe that he was referring to her. No, Sherman indicated, he was talking about Crabtree (who had pushed him away after the game and refused to shake his hand—after Sherman had also bragged to him that “I’m the best in the game!”).
“Don’t open your mouth about the best or I’m going to shut it for you real quick!” Sherman screamed at Andrews, again apparently directing his remarks to Crabtree, adding: “L-O-B!” shorthand for the nickname gives to Seattle’s defense, Legion of Boom.
To some, it was another typically unguarded, trash-talking Sherman moment—like the time he told ESPN commenter Skip Bayless in an interview-turned-debate, “I’m gonna crush you on here, in front of everybody.” Bayless, he added, was “ignorant, pompous and egotistical,” and Sherman wasn’t.
That brought a lot of fans together to decide which of the two they disliked the most.
So naturally, Sherman’s Sunday night comments sent a union of sports fans rushing to their Facebook and Twitter accounts to point out the flaws in the cornerback’s argument.
He was stupid, for one, and an idiot, for another, many agreed. And quite a few felt quite strongly that he also was not white.
As several Tweeters featured on Deadspin put it, he was “an ignorant ape” and “a fucking gorilla.”
In case anyone misunderstood the implications, a number of others spelled it out: n-i-g-g-e-r. I searched around the Internet and lost count of similar racist comments from sports fans.
Crabtree, in a post-game interview, said Sherman “didn’t make any other plays in the game. ... You make one play and you talk?” Later, on Twitter, he added:” Film don’t lie...pull up the tape of that game and show me where this guy is the best?”
Sherman continued the debate on his Twitter account: “There was a lot of talk before the game,” he typed, referring to some past dissing of him by Crabtree. “Now I’m the bad guy lol …. Well if u judge my character on the field … So many glass houses.”
He also had seen the racist comments; some fans even sent them to his account. “Last night shows that racism is still alive and well … And that’s so sad … At least some people respect MLK’s dream.”
The uniting of fans continued online in the Monday newspaper comments. “I see you have this fool on your front page,” one of almost 200 commenters wrote in the Times, referring to a photo of Sherman holding the NFC trophy. “No class.” Another thought Sherman possesses “an unfortunate combination of high testosterone and a low IQ.” And another asked, “Hate much?”
As Seattle heads off for the February 2 Super Bowl against Denver in New York, expect to see at least two more weeks of the nation coming together in sports. In saloons all over town Sunday night, you could already hear them shouting, “Kill those freakin’ Broncos!” In unison, of course.