NFL Players Talk Race With Harvard Students
Richard Sherman was called all kinds of names after his raging rant at the end of the NFC championship game. It was worth it, the Seattle cornerback said, because it gave him a chance to talk about the perception of black athletes to a wider audience.
First, at the Super Bowl. On Wednesday, at Harvard.
"I wanted to educate the uneducated," Sherman said in a discussion at the Harvard Business School. "I felt the need to turn the discussion on its head."
Sherman was mostly known only by football fans before his admittedly overexcited postgame trash-talk about Michael Crabtree after the Seahawks beat the San Francisco 49ers to win the NFC title. As he became the center of attention during Super Bowl week, Sherman chose not to back down from the comments.
"I don't regret anything about it," he said, though he later conceded that it was a "bad moment." "I chose my words very carefully, though I couldn't control my tone. My delivery left something to be desired. But I knew what I was doing. When they called me a `thug,' I provoked a discussion."
That discussion took him to Harvard, along with former NFL Players Association President Domonique Foxworth, Houston Texans running back Arian Foster and Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald. They gave two talks, one at the business school that was supposed to be about social media that quickly veered into a discussion of race; the other, to undergraduates in historic Harvard Yard, was introduced as, "The Modern Black Male Athlete."
Both were packed with a standing-room crowd. A handful of attendees wore Seahawks jerseys or hats.
Sherman said he thought "thug" was just a more acceptable way of slurring black people; he's never heard it used for whites or Asians, he said.
"If you call Richard Sherman a thug, you have never seen a thug," Foster told the business school students, drawing a big laugh. "It just blew my entire mind."
But the way Sherman handled it helped advance the understanding of black athletes, Foster said.
"To have those discussions at Super Bowl media (day), that's huge," he said.
Foxworth compared Sherman to Olympic sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith, who were sent home from the 1968 Summer Games for raising their black-gloved fists to call attention to the plight of blacks in America.
"They worked their entire life to win that sprint, and then they got on the medal stand they put up their fist to let people know we had a problem," said Foxworth, who played for the Broncos, Falcons and Ravens. "I'm proud of what Richard did. He forced us to have a conversation."
Sherman is against the NFL's attempt to ban the "n-word" from the field, saying the league didn't seem to care about it when whites were saying it.
"Now that African-Americans have tried to make it a term of endearment ... that they can use to embrace one another, now they try to ban it," he said.
Foxworth, who is in his first year at the business school, helped put the panel together, calling on some old friends from his football days. Deciding to pursue his MBA, he said, is itself an attempt to redefine the image of a black athlete.
"It's part of telling more than my one story," he said. "I was a football player, but I'm more than that, and I want people to know that, too."
Foster, who has about 437,000 Twitter followers, said he uses the platform to criticize the NCAA - drawing a big crowd from the business school students. He said he was initially circumspect on social media, but as he gained stature as a player he realized he could speak his mind without fear.
"I just feel like people accept you more for you who are than putting on a facade of this perfect little athlete everyone wants you to be," he said.
"I'm at the point in my career where I don't really care any more. I used to be very aware of, `I don't want to say the wrong thing.' But if they cut me today, I would be perfectly fine and I'd be OK with that. I feel a responsibility to push a lot of these issues.
"NCAA athletes, they're afraid to talk about because of the lashing they would get from the NCAA. I'm outspoken for them."
Someday, he said, the issue of paying college athletes will be looked at refusing to allow women to vote before the 19th Amendment.
"We're going to be like, `What were we thinking?" he said.