The Critical Mass

The biggest threat: Richard Sherman or Chris Christie?

A trio of fine local singer-songwriters – Steve Piper, Connie Deming and Scott Regan – were playing Sunday night, so I missed Sunday’s NFL playoff games. By my calculation, this is the 12th straight month that pro football has gone on without me, but I’ve been really busy. Visiting mom, picking up dog poop in the back yard, crafting a used-tire sculpture.

But Monday morning, I had to race to the computer to watch video of the NFL playoff moment that everyone was talking about. A post-game interview with a cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks. As a former sportswriter, let me tell you, that’s the interview I always wanted to get. Erin Andrews, after they hand you whatever the sideline sports-reporter version of the Pulitzer is, next season Fox Sports is gonna put you behind one of those shiny glass studio desks. That seat way over on the far end, next to Tony Siragusa, the guy who sells man diapers.

Richard Sherman had just made a game-saving play against San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree when Andrews pulled him aside.

“Well, I’m the best corner in the game!” Sherman shouted. “When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get! Don’t you ever talk about me! Crabtree! Don’t you open your mouth about the best! Or I’m going to shut it for you real quick! LOB!”
And that was it. Andrews nervously handed the show back to the guys in the studio. The producers must have suspected they had a crazy man on their hands. No telling what Sherman might say next to innocent Americans.

You’ll note that Sherman was looking right into the camera for much of the interview, just like they do in pro wrestling. And, despite still being amped up after making the biggest play in the biggest game of his pro career, Sherman did not drop an f-bomb. “LOB” is a reference to “Legion of Boom.” In the marketing-savvy world of professional sports, everyone strives for an identity, and the Seattle defensive backs have adopted one straight out of the comic books.

Sherman gave the entertainment-driven pro sports world exactly what it is selling. Immediately, sports commentators who moan about the boring interviews that they get from most athletes attacked Sherman for his lack of what they define as sportsmanship in an astonishingly violent sport.  The Internet exploded with racist comments. Conservative cable pundits were shocked that a black man was shouting to be heard over the roar of a home crowd that’s celebrated for making noise.

Here are a couple of more details about this Richard Sherman fellow. He graduated second in his high school class, is a graduate of Stanford, one of his hobbies is reading. He writes a smart blog. Here’s  what he wrote about the reaction to his interview:

To those who would call me a thug or worse because I show passion on a football field — don’t judge a person’s character by what they do between the lines. Judge a man by what he does off the field, what he does for his community, what he does for his family.

Does this episode make you think of another one of the week’s newsmakers? Chris Christie, anyone?

The governor of New Jersey is a loud and arrogant man. He is well known for yelling, using abusive language and calling people names.  He talks down to reporters and screams at school teachers. He is thoroughly unlikeable. And he is  a liar. His story defending his administration’s closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge, political retribution for some as-yet defined slight, defies logic and is full of holes. The mayor of Hoboken has accused him of holding back Superstorm Sandy recovery funds unless she backed a real-estate development project run by a Christie political pal. He’s being investigated for using Federal Sandy money to produce a pro-New Jersey TV ad that looked to most people like a political ad. Every day now, it’s something new.

There are many people out there who find Richard Sherman’s behavior intolerable. Many of the same people love Christie’s aggressive style. He’s fighting for the people of New Jersey, say his defenders. New Jersey politics is a violent sport. They see Christie a victim of, as Fox News calls it, the “wussification” of American men.

There’s a few differences, of course. Those critics immediately spotted one. I see another. Sherman’s moment lasted mere seconds, and everyone laughed. But the kind of thug behavior that Christie employs has seriously impacted the lives of thousands of Americans.