Over the past few days, two Seahawks have publicly offered differing opinions on the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, poverty, and a host of related issues. In the usually anodyne world of athlete press conferences, it’s really something.
A couple weeks ago, a guy by the name of King Noble, who is part of the Fuck Yo Flag “movement” (movement is too strong of a word for some random guys with a hashtag and some videos they took with their phones, but it’s the best I’ve got) posted a video to YouTube that said, among other things, that it was “open season” on cops. Several disingenuous websites linked Noble to Black Lives Matter—an actual movement—and in the run-up to September 11th this became a thing. Vox has an excruciatingly detailed explainer of the entire controversy if you really want to get into it.
Sports got roped into this when King Noble posted a picture of Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch with their arms around each other on his blog, overlaid with the text “When we gon Kill These KKKrakas Bro.” In response, somebody commented on the blog purporting to be Richard Sherman, using language you’d expect from a talk radio caller cosplaying as a black athlete. Here’s an excerpt:
We are who we want to be, that is what is great about america. We are all born with the same chances in life..white or black…YOU choose to be a woman-abusing racist loudmouth. I would love to debate you on national tv. And if you condone senseless black shootings of whites and police officers, you better make that a debate on Springer, so I can bitchslap your ignorant ass!
Despite there being no actual evidence or reason to think that the commenter was Richard Sherman—among many other things, the comment misspelled words like “Stanford,” which you would expect a Stanford graduate like Richard Sherman to get right—several conservative news websites (here, here, here, here, here) reported the story as fact. A few added half-hearted disclaimers after their stories went up.
During a press conference yesterday, Sherman addressed the matter. After saying that he didn’t write the post—you mean to tell me that Richard Sherman isn’t going around posting inane screeds on random websites?—he gave his thoughts on the matter anyway.
Sherman had a lot to say, and I think it’s worth reading and quoting in full (transcript via SB Nation):
Before we get started, I’m gonna address the — because there was some article written. You know, you guys have seen it. Talking about King Noble and all this. I did not write that article. A lot of people had sent it to me over the weekend, but I thought this would be the best place to address it. There were some points in that article, or in that post, that were relevant and I could agree with. But there were also some obviously ignorant points in there. I don’t think any time’s a time to call out for an all-out war against police or any race of people. I thought that was an ignorant statement. But as a black man, I do understand that black lives matter. You know, I stand for that, I believe in that wholeheartedly.
But I also think that there’s a way to go about things, and there’s a way to do things. And I think the issue at hand needs to be addressed internally, and before we move on, because from personal experience, you know, you have living in the hood, living in the inner city, you deal with things, you deal with people dying. Dealt with a best friend getting killed ... it was two 35-year-old black men. Wasn’t no police officer involved, wasn’t anybody else involved, and I didn’t hear anybody shouting “black lives matter” then ... and I think that’s the point we need to get to is that we need to deal with our own internal issues before we move forward and start pointing fingers and start attacking other people. We need to solidify ourselves as people and deal with our issues, because I think as long as we have black-on-black crime and, you know, one black man killing another ... if black lives matter, then it should matter all the time. You should never let somebody get killed—that’s somebody’s son, that’s somebody’s brother, that’s somebody’s friend. So you should always keep that in mind.
And there’s a lot of dealings with police officers right now, I don’t think all cops are bad. You know, I think there’s some great cops out there, who do everything in their power to uphold the badge and uphold the honor and protect the people in society. But there are bad cops, and I think that also needs to be addressed. I think the police officers we have right now — you know, some of it is being brought to light, because of video cameras, everybody has a camera phone. But these are things a lot of us have dealt with our whole lives. And I think right now is a perfect time to deal with it. The climate we’re in ... everybody’s being more accepting, you know, so I think the ignorance should stop. I think people realize that, at the end of the day, we’re all human beings. So, you know, before we’re black, white, Asian, Polynesian, Latino—we’re humans. So, it’s up to us to stop it. Thank you.”
This may not be the response you expected out of Richard Sherman. He acknowledges police brutality and the impact it has on black lives, but argues that a more pressing issue is black-on-black inner city gun violence. As Bomani Jones joked on Twitter, this is a “But what about black on black crime?” argument, which is a cousin to the #AllLivesMatter argument he slipped in at the end. It’s an argument found much more frequently in conservative than liberal political circles, where it’s often used as a polite way of saying that the disproportionate violence in black communities isn’t an outcome of America’s history of structural racism and its related ills, but of a unique black pathology. To radically oversimplify things, this is much closer to the Jason Whitlock side of things than the Ta-Nehisi Coates side.
Today, after answering a ton of questions about football, Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett responded to Sherman (for a better video go here, starting at the 11 minute mark).
Once again, here is Bennett in full:
Oh yes, I was reading Richard Sherman’s quotes yesterday. I would like to say I disagree with some of the things that he said yesterday. I think when people talk about the black lives matter thing, I think he’s misinterpreting it, that black people kill black people, white people kill white people. People kill people every day.
I think the black lives thing is more about the social injustice, not so much the injustice of people killing within the community, it’s about the social injustice of the people that is supposed to protect them,and building the community through the black community. Not just black people too, because you see a lot of people within the Black Lives Matters organization that are white, Spanish, they are all dealing with the same type of hardships that are going on around the world.
I think sometimes people don’t take the time to look into what things really believe, or what’s really going on in the world, and I think when you say something and are in the position he is in, I think sometimes people take it and run with it. I think there are a lot of murders in a lot of communities, but a lot of time it deals with the segregation within the communities around the world. You look around, there is a white neighborhood, a black neighborhood, a Spanish neighborhood, instead of just calling them all American neighborhoods, or American communities. I think a lot of times people just get intertwined with different people and they don’t understand about what is going on in the world.
I think black lives matter a lot, and I agree with the Black Lives Matter movement. And I think a lot of times of people just don’t understand the movement or things that are going on, and it’s all about education and things like that too.
Well we had a conversation about it. His opinion is different from mine. My opinion is, I believe in the things that people are trying to do. These things go all the way back to 1955, to Emmett Till. You gotta think about it, the last hanging in America was in the 60s. There’s a lot of social injustice that’s been going on for awhile.
One of my favorite people that I read about all the time is Dick Gregory. I go back checking out his books, and you see what’s going on within the community and the world. Now people are starting to see people for who they are, and not just their color. There is still a small amount of people that want people to see people for their color and not their character’s that they have or the person that they come with or the person who they are or how they were raised. People are too worried about if he’s Spanish or if he’s black or if he’s Chinese, and not just talking to them and saying we’re all just people at the end of the day.
Bennett wasn’t asked a question about Sherman, but instead thought the issue was so important that he seriously and respectfully criticized his own teammate in public in service of a rather progressive argument. This just doesn’t happen in the world of million-dollar brand endorsements and “let’s just stick to questions about football” press conferences.
No matter who you think is right here—or even if you don’t give a shit about it at all—it’s refreshing to see athletes stop with the platitudes and engage with the most consequential debate of 2015.
Photo via AP