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Richard Sherman, Seahawks speaking out on race relations is refreshing – and needed

Seahawks' Richard Sherman: Society needs to give minority kids better opportunities

Richard Sherman of the Seahawks talks at training camp about race relations and opportunities for and treatment of minority youths in our society.
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Richard Sherman of the Seahawks talks at training camp about race relations and opportunities for and treatment of minority youths in our society.

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

His wit is quick, sharp and entertaining. At least once per talk with him, he flashes looks like this:

Tuesday -- on the eve of today’s players’ day off practicing at training camp -- offered more of the best of Sherman. The three-time All-Pro cornerback from Compton, California, with a Stanford degree, 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.

That was just the last 1:45 or so of what Sherman said, what I was able to video record. Here is the rest, which began when Sherman responded to a question following the fourth practice of Seattle’s training camp about how involved he is in discussions inside the Seahawks’ locker room about race relations in the United States.

“Oh yeah, I mean we just about every day we are speaking about it for hours and hours and hours,” Sherman said of his teammates, “because this is our time. 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 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...”

The above video picks up from there.

Say what you will about Sherman’s place to talk about this -- and I’ve gotten online responses since posting this video such as “they athletes stick to sport questions don't get it” and 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 prime of their careers.

Sherman’s teammate Michael Bennett mentioned why on Saturday. He wa$ dead-on.

The reason Michael Jordan speaking out on this issue July 25 made such news was because the basketball legend was so silent on such topics for so long, including throughout his unparallelled playing career with the Chicago Bulls. He had sports’ largest endorsement cash cow to protect.

Sherman’s not exactly peddling peanuts, either. But he’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.

That latter clip in the paragraph above in which Sherman and Doug Baldwin take on the NFL and its media and marketing policies was the most-watched video -- be it in news, sports or entertainment -- in the national McClatchy media company for 2014. So, yes, when Sherman speaks, people listen.

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.

(By the way, I’ve since been asked: “Who gives a (rip) what Bennett was wearing?” Well, a question about why he was wearing the shirt at a press conference shirt got him talking about this issue extensively.)

“So as athletes we need to start controlling that influence and keep it positive and not always about dollar to dollar,” Bennett said. “Finding a way to make it something sustainable so when we’re in the community, make the sustainable event … not so much about money.”

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

Many of you have a right, of course, to prefer their favorite players to just play the game for the teams they love. Show up on Sundays, keep shutting down receivers and sacking quarterbacks, and it’s all good. Nothing more.

Me? 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.

Long ago, when I was the first months of my career change from being an Army officer to becoming a sports writer, the great Bay Area columnist Ann Killion (now with the San Francisco Chronicle) told me something I’ve never since forgotten: “The best sports writing isn’t writing just about sports. It’s writing about the people who play the sports.”

I’ll take Richard Sherman. All of him.

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