There is a lot of noise in football, and most of the noise says nothing. It is electric guitars in the television lead-in, jet plane roars, industrial sounds meant to signify manly manhoodness. It is loud suits, shouts of “Omaha!,” the groan and crunch of large men crashing into each other. It is Jim Harbaugh throwing temper tantrums and screaming and acting like a parody of a 3-year-old, for which he is considered to have a lot of passion for the game, because “passion” is apparently another word for noise. –Louisa Thomas, “Loud Noises”
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: you should mind your own business and work with your hands, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders, and so that you will not be dependent upon anybody. (1 Thess 4.11-12)
“Classless.” “It takes the enjoyment away.” “What must his teammates think?” “It hasn’t always been this way.” “This is the hero of America’s boys?” Not tweets, but some of the initial thoughts from my own head after Richard Sherman’s tirade Sunday on the field with Erin Andrews, a tirade which has immortalized him in pre-Super Bowl infamy, at least for this year.
If you haven’t seen it, Sherman, after making the decisive defensive play on 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree–an impressively towering and effortless 180-degree tip shot to his teammate for an interception in the endzone–proceeded to throw up the international “choke” symbol to the rival quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, and enter a 30-second rant about being “the best corner in the game,” about Crabtree being “a sorry receiver,” and about this result being “exactly what you gonna get.” And he signs off with “L.O.B.” (“Legion of Boom,” Seattle’s trademark), after which Andrews moved the coverage back up to the booths.
This was only the beginning. Sherman, a Stanford graduate, was interviewed in the press room later, and remained convinced that the play was “a joke,” that his opponent was “mediocre” at best. This time he had a bow tie on, and what could have been explained away as heat-of-the-moment theatrics, now became a statement. And the statement was received in all sorts of ways. Twitter unraveled a screed of racial slurs, cries in defense of sportsmanship, cries in support of Sherman. It wouldn’t be too much to say Twitter swirled the storm, much more than the statement did–that kind of finger-wagging has happened after touchdowns in schoolyards and backyards and churchyards forever, not too mention on camera with superstars before, the Deions and TOs and Namaths. Twitter gave the gavel to the people, and in a loud and polarizing landscape like competitive football, you’re going to get a fury. As Louisa Thomas says for Grantland,
Ah yes, the choke — unsportsmanlike conduct. Sportsman used to be a name for a particular breed of man, a cross between a human and an athlete. It’s one of those words, like amateur, that has become essentially meaningless — if it ever really meant what it was supposed to say. Be gracious. Be humble in victory. Honor your enemy. Let your actions speak louder than words. Richard Sherman is not gracious. He is not humble. He makes a lot of noise, and some of it is football noise: angry and reckless and careless and undifferentiated. If I were Erin Andrews, I’d probably want an apology. But if I were a Seahawk, I’d probably want to run through a wall for Richard Sherman.
I have to admit, in the conundrum that Thomas describes, I tend toward the biblical route of football righteousness. I lean toward the Peyton Manning brand of sportsmanlike conduct, when you compete like hell on wheels, viciously, successfully, and then you shrug your enormous shoulders with a Tom Hanks humility, and do some Papa John’s commercials. It continues the myth. It allows the belief that man–helmeted, brutish, grunting man–may contain the will to win for the sake of what’s morally just. I tend not towards the loudmouth, which I shun as unsportsmanlike, un-biblical, un-me.
And what’s funny, I was (not really) surprised to learn that you are commanded not to be sportsmanlike in the world of football. Did you know that Seattle’s Pro Bowl manchine running back, Marshawn Lynch, was fined $50,000 this year for choosing silence before the media? Apparently “leading a quiet life” and “working with your hands” is not enough; you must make mention of it, from time to time, for the sake of the public and their commentary. I wonder if Sherman will be fined for his words. Something tells me no.
And there we have the contradiction of lives, both inner-, both outer-, the will to win glory and the desire to care less. Extreme moments like this, where someone chooses one so visibly over the other, we the viewers become the lawmakers against what we’ve actually demanded. We want lionized men, endzone-interceptions, nail-biter victories, and the merciless gridiron on which it takes place. But lift the veil on what’s behind that animal drive? Talk to that on camera? Never. As Sherman says, what we’re demanding to see, and the very thing we are tweeting against, is “exactly what you’re gonna get” when it comes to the clamor of these divisive demands.
Where is the sportsman, then, in something as furious and competitive as football? It must be there, the humility of self, the awareness that this is all “just a game.” Sherman said in his CNN interview just two days ago, “It takes a different kind of person to turn that switch on and off, to have the intense, incredible, focused–and, you know, I guess, angry–human being to be successful in this atmosphere.” To run breakneck into a veil, walking through it into someone else. Sinful man that I am! Sherman, I think you’re less extraordinary than you think.