If you’re a sports fan … and maybe even if you’re not … you’ve probably heard about Seattle Seahawk player Richard Sherman’s tirade after his team won the NFC championship last Sunday. Having made the game saving play for his team, he gestured with the choke sign at the opposing quarterback and taunted the receiver for whom the pass he tipped was intended. He then responded to a simple question by a sideline reporter thus:
His answer … as well as the reaction in the media … says a lot about the state of sports today, and in this old guy’s opinion, what it says isn’t good. But first, let me offer what I think it says (and doesn’t say) about Richard Sherman. I think he is a product of his generation … a generation of young athletes who have been coddled since the first moment they showed exceptional athletic ability … and a generation of young people in general who have grown up to the mantra of Be Who You Are. As he said in a later interview discussing his tirade, Sherman said, I can’t be anyone but who I am. Translation: I do what I do. I don’t think he’s a thug and he’s certainly not stupid … even jocks at Stanford have to meet high academic standards, something Stanford’s students are pleased to point out when they play my Alma Mater, USC. To his credit, he said he intends to learn from the experience. In my mind, none of the above gives him a hall-pass … it was an awful example bad sportsmanship, and every time he tries to explain it instead of just apologizing, adds to the problem. And his playing a race-card by saying that thug is, in his case, a racial slur is ridiculous given the assortment of tough guys of every color who have been called thugs … albeit not an uncommon strategy in these days of half-assed apologies.
For the most part, the jock and jock-announcer community has defended him. The sideline reporter caught him right after he made the game saving play when his competitive juices were still flowing, they say. You can’t expect him to be composed. Perhaps not, but you can expect him not to denigrate his opponent if you believe in sportsmanship. The problem is we live in the age of sports Smacksmanship, in which continually talking down your opponent during the progress of a game is considered acceptable. On drive-time sportstalk, the self-proclaimed Kings of L.A., ex-football jock, Marcellus Wiley, and non-jock sports know-it-all, Max Kellerman, said talking smack is part of sports. When you played down at the gym or in the playground, they asked, didn’t you talk smack to your opponents when you beat them on a play? No, I didn’t. I might get in a pushing match if someone fouled me too hard but what’s now called smack-talking was poor sportsmanship. It still is. I wouldn’t care what spoiled, over-revered professional athletes do on the field of play if it didn’t propagate down to college, then high school and finally to youth sports. The rise of poor sportsmanship in general and Smacksmanship in particular belies the much touted benefits of sports for children. And as Smacksmanship has becoming part of sports at all levels, it has influenced the way we deal with each other in our daily lives. Take look at some political message boards if you don’t believe me.
Smacksmanship is just plain old bad sportsmanship. I wish we’d stop saying otherwise.