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When Black men flex, society gets scared

WALTER FIELDS | 2/3/2014, 6:39 a.m. | Updated on 2/3/2014, 6:39 a.m.

(NNPA) – By chance I watched the NFL playoff games at the home of a friend and former college football player, Vaughn McKoy. It was Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman who stole the show. His now infamous post-game interview with ESPN’s Erin Andrews set the Internet on fire as a debate ensued over the appropriateness of Sherman’s comments after he made a game-winning play. For two Black men watching the game, it was one of those moments when few words needed to be spoken.

I can’t express how much I loved Sherman’s passion and defiance. Here was a young Black man who takes extreme pride in his craft, works hard to master the task he is assigned, and is unafraid to proclaim himself the best at what he does. Sherman’s post-game proclamation was vintage Muhammad Ali. And like the boxing legend, the young Seattle defensive star is taking hits not for his play but because he has enough self-confidence to proclaim himself the best. When Donald Trump does it he’s called confident, a genius. When Richard Sherman does it he is belittled as an arrogant n*.

What a different nation we would be if more Black men felt free enough to claim their greatness; free enough to speak their mind; and bold enough to care less what others thought.

The criticism of Sherman has been patently racist and in some instances, simply ignorant. Here is a professional athlete, at the top of his game, who warned that the opposition could not make a play on him. In his interview with ESPN’s Andrews, who by the way defended Sherman, he did not use foul language or use an obscene gesture but simply made it clear that he was better than his opponent. I thought that’s what athletic competition was about. Channeling “The Greatest,” the Seahawk did not back down from his prior proclamations that the receiver in question, San Francisco’s Michael Crabtree, was mediocre. Now, one can debate whether that charge is legitimate but you can’t dispute the fact that Sherman lived up to his bravado.

This episode is just another reminder that society likes its Black men docile, silent and intimidated. Sherman’s real offense is that he violated the social norm in America. How dare this young Black man proclaim himself the best. How arrogant that Sherman did not act more “gracefully” in victory and more diplomatically in his response. There would have been no “chatter” about Sherman had he responded in a more subdued manner. In fact, he would have been hailed as a “model” athlete, as someone worthy of adulation and emulation by youth. Instead, this bright, articulate and intelligent Stanford grad is attacked because he wasn’t Negro enough.

When Black men flex, society gets scared. We are not supposed to be intelligent and confident enough to recognize our own value. We are expected to be subservient and to show deference to everyone; particularly those who theoretically exercise political or economic control over us; whether they are White or look like us. It is the residual residue of an era when we had to walk with heads lowered at the sight of a White person and dared not make eye contact. Sherman held his head high and had his eyes trained on America and let the country know he knows how good he is. It was one of the most refreshing moments of television I have viewed in ages.