Engel: Sherman offers no apologies for outburst … nor should he

'I can only be myself,' Seahawks CB Richard Sherman said in the face of criticism following his postgame rant.

Steven Bisig/Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

 

For me, it is “bitch.’’

For Richard Sherman, it is “thug.’’

For you, well, only you know what your word is.

But there is a word that society calls each of us when it wants to put us in our place, when it wants to shut us up, when we have been too loud, too big, too opinionated, too successful, too far beyond what is considered acceptable for whatever group we fall into.

Society says this to make us play smaller, or mostly to cram us into boxes it feels comfortable with. Boxes like: Pretty-little-girl columnist. Or non-threatening successful black male athlete.

Or in the case of the Seahawks cornerback: Respectful, smiling, PC postgame interviewee.

Instead, after making a big-time play that sent his team to the Super Bowl, Sherman dropped the choke sign on Colin Kaepernick and then unleashed a passionate and angry postgame interview in which he word-whipped 49ers wideout Michael Crabtree.

Oh, good God, what this wrought.

Sherman outrage almost broke Twitter with a swift and fervent backlash against his “disrespectful,” “out of control,” “classless” behavior. And then, as typically happens, this devolved into thug and monkey and, yes, the N-word, because God forbid anybody politely debate anything in this country.

Whatever derivative they were using, they were all saying the same thing, which is what Sherman so adeptly pointed out on Wednesday.

“The only reason it bothers me is because it seems like it’s the accepted way of calling someone the N-word nowadays,” Sherman said. “It’s like everyone else says the N-word, and then they say ‘thug’ and they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s fine.’ ”

The word society uses to keep you in your place is different for everybody — stupid or thug or bitch or egotistical or ugly. But the goal is the same, to make you stop being so frustratingly you, to make you feel like maybe you are doing it wrong, to make you think you are not enough as is, to make you quit.

The backlash toward Sherman has nothing to do with who he is and everything to do with how uncomfortable that makes some people feel for racial reasons and others they probably cannot even articulate.

“I come from a place where it’s all adversity, so what’s a little bit more, what’s a little bit more of people telling you what you can’t do, what you’re not going to do, and what you’ve done,” was how Sherman described it, and this feels right to all of us who have been told some version of this.

For me, it is bitch.

For him, it is thug.

And the lesson to be learned from Sherman has nothing to do with winning with class and certainly not class as defined by a guy who has never walked a day in his skin, and nothing to do with an appropriately passionate postgame interview, and really nothing at all to do with what he said Sunday.

Sherman’s teachable moment came Wednesday.

What Sherman said in his “sorry-I’m-not-sorry” talk with the media should be required reading for every kid in America. The only way to stop the word they throw at you from having power is to not buy in, not change, not quit.

Or in the words of Tina Fey: Do your thing and don’t care if they like it.

“No. I really don’t know how to be anybody else,” Sherman said when asked if he’s changed in light of the criticism. “I can only be myself. I obviously learn from my mistakes and try to do it better, word situations like that better, and be more mature about the situation and understand the moment, but you can’t be anybody else. I can’t make anything up now. It’s gotten us this far and it’ll be hard to make something up and be somebody else. I can only be myself.”

As I sat in that room listening to Sherman put on a clinic on shutting up idiots, this struck me as the capital-T truth. Don’t apologize because you did not live up to their expectations, only apologize for not living up to yours. And this starts with being OK with who you are.

“I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed,

Get along with the voices inside of my head,

You’re trying to save me, stop holding your breath.”

–Rihanna and Eminem, “Monster”

We all have this monster, this voice telling us we are not good enough, not smart enough, or in the case of Sherman, not drafted high enough, not PC enough, not polite enough. We put that voice there, or somebody else does, or a lot of somebodies on Twitter does.

For me, it is bitch.

I am a MWT, after all, a married white Texan who drives a Volvo and car pools and is a member of The Junior League, so thug does not do the job of putting me in my place. There has to be a different buzzword for taking down people like me.

Yet I am Richard Sherman.

We all are Richard Sherman.

Now deal with it.