Slavery Much? On Racism in the NFL, Richard Sherman, and Hypocrisy

richard-sherman-erin-andrewsI was rooting for both teams in Sunday’s San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks NFC brawl. Since I am a USC alum, I had to root for Pete Carroll’s team. Plus, I went to high school with Marshawn Lynch. Conversely, I am from the Bay Area. I would be remiss if I didn’t show the respect for the 49ers that every “Yay Area” native is expected to have. But, I have never followed the game nor plan to in the future. I only watch because my mother-in-law adores the game and we are often there on Sunday nights for family dinner.

Somehow, football has become tradition in America. Many have reconciled the barbaric sport in their minds, incorporating it into the mainstream as if it is inherently healthy, safe, and okay. Meanwhile the sport is by no means empowering or mentally fruitful for the majority of those who play it. That, to me, sums up the deep quandary present in American culture when it comes to professional football.

Perhaps, though, my greater issue with the NFL is its striking similarity to the old plantations of the South. The field negroes were limited in power. They were denied an education or the trappings of a proper citizenry. They were relegated to a status slightly above that of a bull. Black male slaves were worked the hardest and even “trained” to withstand unimaginably horrific environmental and physical conditions. Black bodies were commoditized and used to improve the lives of white slaveowners.

Juxtapose that with today’s NFL. White team and stadium owners manage a system which rewards mostly black players orders of magnitude less than themselves as they systematically eliminate their ability to function. Colleges push these players through without making sure they are literate. Retired players report mental issues sometimes resulting in suicide. Meanwhile, a predominantly white male audience jeers and cheers from the stands and from their couches, gratified by the gladiator-style entertainment they enjoy.

Take away the macabre themes of rape and murder of the slave South, throw in some tights, pads, and helmets, and you’ve got yourself yet another microcosm of an era of US history that the mainstream seeks so desperately to dis-remember. I may be accused of employing a bit of hyperbole here. Some say that nothing should ever be compared to slavery. But, I am not comparing the NFL to slavery. I am seeing them as one in the same. To me, the NFL is just slavery’s grown up, refined cousin.

And, where there is slavery, there are slaves. Though they may feel empowered, black athletes occupy lowly stations providing fodder and one-dimensional performance art for viewers. The love-hate dichotomy whites have with black athletes is epitomized in every infidelity, outburst, arrest, and indictment involving a black male athlete.

Sunday’s heated post-game interview with Richard Sherman and Erin Andrews is a case study in white America’s innate racial hypocrisy.


Sherman responded in a thoughtful piece a day later, but the damage was already done. He was already pigeonholed as a monstrous brute, and the usual racial epithets followed.

The immediate outpour of racial hatred toward Richard Sherman is just another example of why a dis-empowered black football player is not seen as human being but instead as an animal for their personal entertainment. Families gather ’round the television several nights a week to watch (predominantly) black bodies smashing and concussing one another while white owners watch from their sky boxes. Fans act like drunken animals. People have literally been murdered over the outcomes of football, basketball, and baseball games. Meanwhile, the players are somehow expected to act prim and proper in public spaces. When they behave just like the folks watching them, they are reduced to buffoons, apes, and every other disgusting term racist fans can conjure up.

Think about it. In what other instance are we okay with entire fleets of “employees” being illiterate? College grads all over the country (who can actually read) are struggling to make a living while we idolize football players who have less of a command of the English language than my six-year-old. In what other industry do we bet on human bodies like they’re animals? And, when else does a man like Sherman – who rightly expressed his frustration with a competitor who shunned him – have to apologize to offended fans who have never been offended by a white player doing the exact same thing?

The truth is: Sherman isn’t a thug. He is an arrogant hot-head just like many of his peers and predecessors. He is not an anomaly. The only reason this is a story is because he stepped out of the thick red racist line drawn around him. Period.

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Jenn M. Jackson

Jenn M. Jackson, PhD is a co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Water Cooler Convos. She is a native of Oakland, CA. Jenn is a radical Black feminist scholar who believes none of us are free until all of us are free.

6 Responses

  1. John Montes De Oca says:

    When I saw this live I couldn’t help but chuckle and enjoy it. Isn’t football just suppose to be entertaining? People put more thought into what athletes say instead of their politicians. What most people will never know and you didn’t mention is that Sherman is actually highly educated and went to Stanford. Growing up he always had to prove himself and this outburst is just an extension of that. That guy has done well for himself and in the heat of the moment exclaimed that. Can we talk about Peyton Manning’s giant head instead?

  2. GreenInOC says:

    @John, the statement “People put more thought into what athletes say instead of their politicians.”, is so true and so devastatingly sad!

  3. Dionne says:

    I agree whole-heartedly! It’s one thing to hate a player after he completely dismantles your team. It’s another thing entirely to derides a man’s reputation, based on a one-dimensional-30-second-post-game-interview. Interestingly, when emotions are high, it is so hard to keep bias in check. Sherman critics quickly characterized him as a “thug” because that image is the only one viewers could retrieve from the cache of black images stored in their brains. It’s a context that viewers brought to the interview. As they watched their television screens, their brains went into overdrive retrieving mental images that matched what their eyes absorbed. “Thug” willfully emerged. The truth is, Sherman is far from that. Countless other images of the man have long before circled the Internet prior to this sideline interview aired. Yet, somehow, most were unable to contrast this thug image against other countervailing interviews. The truth is, Sherman is a very complex man.

  4. Dionne says:

    So true!

  5. GreenInOC says:

    For people who insist that this game is safe, I would ask that you watch Head Games (it’s streaming on Netflix).

    I also heard this opinion piece yesterday that I liked,

  6. GreenInOC says:

    Saw “Schooled: The Price of College Sports” on Netflix last night and thought of you and this post.