Seattle Seahawks

Richard Sherman speaking out on race issues refreshing—and needed

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is one of the league’s most outspoken players, and when he speaks on race, you should listen.
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is one of the league’s most outspoken players, and when he speaks on race, you should listen. The Associated Press

I’ve been covering sports for 18 years. I’ve never had a more worldly, candid and engaging interview subject than Richard Sherman.

His wit is sharp and entertaining. Sometimes, he’ll punctuate it with flashes of glee and humor.

Tuesday — on the eve of today’s players’ day off practicing at training camp — offered more of Sherman’s best. The three-time All-Pro cornerback from Compton, California, owner of a degree from Stanford, a voice at the top of the NFL’s players’ union and an informed opinion about plenty was asked about race relations in our country.

Specifically, Sherman responded to a question about how involved he is in discussions inside the Seahawks’ locker room about race.

“Oh yeah, I mean, just about every day, we are speaking about it for hours and hours and hours, because this is our time,” Sherman said. “This is an incredible time to be in, and so we made sure it’s good and it’s different. I’m sure if people filmed our discussions and really, really saw how deep we dive into it, then they would understand how seriously we are taking these issues.

“I think at this point, you know, it is an unfortunate time we are living in. It is unfortunate that kids have to deal with discrimination and things like that. That kids have to deal with underfunded schools, just because their skin is a certain pigment. I think that’s unfortunate. I think, you know, my message to the kids — and that’s always who I speak to, because they are the future, they are the next generation, they are the innocent souls who had nothing to do with this — I think it’s going to be powerful once we come together and understand that these kids didn’t do anything wrong. These kids didn’t pick the color they were born. They have extra pigment in their skin. It is not to say they don’t need great schooling, it’s not to say they need to be ostracized when they go to a great school.”

Sherman said he was talking the other day with teammates Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.

“Mike B and Cliff were talking about their kids going to school,” Sherman said. “And, you know, they go to pretty affluent schools and they are one of the few minorities in the school and they have to deal with those issues. They have to deal with being ostracized and being asked questions, ‘Why your skin is brown?’ and things like that. I don’t think any kid, anybody, should have to deal with that, and that goes on to talk about the issues we have going forward that adults shouldn’t have to deal with that. You treat everybody the same. You treat everybody equally regardless of what your job, your duty as a human being, you treat everybody equally.”

Sherman’s voice was rising. His point was building.

“I think that is what I want to emphasize, that’s what I want people to understand. That, come on, just get past the color of people’s skins,” he said. “Nobody picks the color of their skin. We’re black people, we’re born brown, you know, et cetera, et cetera. We should not be dealt with a different way just because of that, and that’s what I want to emphasize to the kids, because kids …”

Then he looked directly into the lenses of the assembled television cameras.

“You’re powerful. You’re strong. You’re intelligent. You’re amazing people. And don’t let people tell you otherwise, because that’s the truth of the matter. Sometimes you lose that. You lose sight of that because society doesn’t give you that power. They don’t give you that equal opportunity …

“… with these kids I think they need to understand that they are powerful. They are incredible. They’re unique. Obviously, your skin color makes you unique to some degree … but just understand you’re a beautiful person.

“Thank you.”

With that, Sherman walked away into the locker room. A mic-drop moment, indeed.

I’ve gotten online responses since posting video of Sherman’s comments, opinions on Twitter such as “They athletes, stick to sport questions, don’t get it.” Calls that he should “stick to football” or “what does he know as a multimillionaire?”

You may disagree with what Sherman says. There are many sides and nuances to this complicated and sensitive issue. It’s one our country’s has been needing to solve for centuries, not years.

Point is, it’s excellent that Sherman says it.

He knows — and, just as well, realizes — far more than the average professional athlete. Even if other athletes are as grounded in the real world as Sherman, where are they? You can count on both your hands the number of elite, top-of-their-sport players who voice pointed opinions on controversial subjects while still in the primes of their careers.

Sherman’s teammate Michael Bennett mentioned why on Saturday, saying top athletes seek to protect their endorsement opportunities by not speaking out on controversial issues. Or anything. He wa$ dead-on.

Despite national endorsement deals with Campbell’s soups, Nike, Neff, Body Armor and others, Sherman’s consistently been at the center of controversial issues on and beyond the field since he joined the NFL and the Seahawks in 2011 as the best fifth-round pick Seattle’s ever had.

When Sherman speaks, people listen and react.

Which is Bennett’s point.

“At the end of the day, athletes have a brand and we control what is sold in America … whether it’s shoes, clothes, whatever, a drink, soda, food. Athletes hold the key to what people want,” the Pro Bowl defensive end said Saturday while wearing a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt.

“So as athletes we need to start controlling that influence and keep it positive and not always about dollar to dollar,” Bennett said.

What Sherman and Bennett are talking about is refreshing. And it’s needed.

You have the right, of course, to prefer your favorite players just play the game for the teams you love. Show up on Sundays, keep shutting down receivers and sacking quarterbacks, and it’s all good.

I prefer the players we cover to have a brain, a sense of the bigger, real world around them — and to speak that mind and sense. These guys are people, not robots. Pro athletes have the same reactions and opinions as doctors, lawyers, janitors, cab drivers, you and I do.

It’s just jarring for some to hear these players speak out beyond their sport.

Such jarring is good for us all.

Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle

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