22 January 2014

Class(less) Warfare?

And now, from the wide world of sports — the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, the TV ratings, the faked-up feuds and playground accusations of villainy, the inevitable out-of-context post-competition interviews...

I write here not to praise Richard Sherman but to defend him (as if he needs my defense). I'd like to point out three rather important context issues that are being ignored in what passes for debate/outrage, and close with my snarky evaluation of why I'll continue to defend Sherman and others like him against a certain idiotic segment of the populace.

First, shame on the media. Ms Andrews was doing what the media has done for a couple of decades: Shoved a microphone in the face of an athlete moments after a defining performance and expected something other than a considered response, because the non-considered response is what makes "great television." In short, you (collectively) were hoping for a train-wreck response, and you're riding that train wreck all the way to better ratings and bigger advertising dollars through notoriety and not through substance. The contrast between this nonsense and calls by many for decorum is more than a bit hypocritical. In short, Ms Andrews, it's your fault — or at least the fault of a media system that insists on getting "immediacy" on the one hand and "decorum" on the other, rather like the misconduct of the media regarding the Sandy Hook shootings. You — and that's a collective you aimed at media culture — actually didn't want "decorum." And, sadly, we didn't learn any more from this outburst than we did when a Vice President of the United States resorted to gutter talk on the floor of the Senate because he disagreed with a Senator's position on an issue raised by the Vice President in that conversation. (The short media life of that latter incident — this one has already exceeded it — is food for thought in itself.)

Second, I did not find what Mr Sherman said offensive. Admittedly, I have a rather tolerant affection for dissent and for passionate outbursts, both philosophically and as the parent of two offspring with Y chromosomes. Even aside from that — and even aside from the "what do you expect?" issues — nothing Mr Sherman actually said constitutes a credible threat against anyone.

After celebrating his spectacular effort replays showed Sherman approaching Crabtree and taunting the receiver by slapping him on the butt and presumably telling the dejected Texas Tech product just how good he is, a gesture which resulted in Crabtree pie-facing Sherman. Sherman was penalized but continued celebrating by making a choking gesture directed at Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick before finally setting Twitter afire with a WWE-like post-game interview which seemed to startle FOXSports sideline reporter Erin Andrews. "I'm the best corner in the game," Sherman screamed. "When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you gonna get. Don't you ever talk about me."

A stunned Andrews managed to stammer a follow-up question: "Who was talking about you?" she asked. "Crabtree," Sherman replied. "Don't you open your mouth about the best, or I'm gonna settle it for you real quick."

(fake paragraphing corrected) There's a fairly clear implication: That Mr Crabtree himself said or did something that added some fuel to the competitive fire. There's no insult to Crabtree's person or family (not even the traditional, between-the-defensive-and-offensive-linemen comments about sleeping with one's opponent's sister). There's no credible threat; perhaps "I'm gonna settle it for you real quick" could hypothetically be a threat, but then this is from an athletic contest in which hitting each other hard enough to knock helmets off is routine. Even in the supposedly kinder, gentler, more gentlemanly days of the seventies and eighties (and in the kinder, gentler realms of less-violence-oriented sports like soccer and non-scholarship athletics), there was plenty of trash talking before, during, and after athletic contests. Hell, it happens at the military academies... which are purportedly training "gentlemen" (sorry, much of their culture hasn't caught up with women in the cadet and officer corps).

Third, I think Mr Sherman's prompt response, in the course of something he was scheduled to write anyway, was a more-than-adequate "apology" for anything for which he needed to apologize. Would things perhaps have been "better" if he had not engaged in that outburst? Probably... or, perhaps, they would have festered further. We don't, and can't, know. I think it telling that Mr Sherman called out worse disrespect by hometown fans in the course of his own piece, then moved on; it wasn't mere distraction. At least, it wasn't any more distraction than this entire media-induced and media-fed brouhaha. That Mr Sherman's style is not mine is beside the point (which is only to say "gee, we have different backgrounds, so maybe we react to things differently"); I look forward to seeing more of his musings as an articulate current player.

And now the snark: By default and under most circumstances, I'll cut the athlete who got his college degree considerable slack against implicit attacks on his character by other athletes who couldn't be bothered to get a degree. There are obvious limits, but they don't apply here. Mr Sherman earned his undergraduate degree as a scholarship athlete at a selective institution (perhaps not in the most rigorous academic program, but he did get the degree). His "opponent" in all this... not so much (and at most universities, if you're into your third year of attendance and haven't declared a major you're academically behind). The idiots are not those who get behind, but those who pretend that it's not an issue... and usually end up as the most-vociferous critics of athletes who later "step out of line" in public persona. Yes, this close to MLK Day that should bring up some uncomfortable memories of the rhetoric of the 1950s through 1970s.