Former NFL Players Association president Domonique Foxworth, now a first-year graduate student at Harvard Business School, invited Richard Sherman, Larry Fitzgerald and Arian Foster to campus Wednesday as part of a forum on entrepreneurship, leveraging fame into business success, and expectations of professional athletes as role models.
While the panel discussions did touch on those topics, the three-hour event morphed into an interesting debate on race, media, social media, and reactions to Sherman’s polarizing postgame interview after the NFC Championship game, in which he trashed 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree in a brief but wild rant.
Sherman, who made the game-clinching play in the end zone to help the Seahawks clinch a Super Bowl berth, said “I don’t regret anything” about his tirade, and still didn’t have anything nice to say about Crabtree, his rival.
“People said I had no class,” the All-Pro cornerback said. “What is class in sports? What exactly is it? Do I say great game and go cookie cutter? No. I don’t think he played a great game.”
“If it was Larry, and the same situation happened, I wouldn’t have said a thing. Because I respect Larry.”
Sherman received heavy backlash from his 15-second tirade, particularly on Twitter, where Sherman said the response from many was hateful and racist in tone. He said one word he heard a lot was “thug,” which he said was used because he is black.
Sherman is from Compton, Calif., but he graduated from Stanford and has proven to be one of the NFL’s most thought-provoking players. He writes a regular column for the website TheMMQB.com.
“Maybe I’m cocky. Maybe I was arrogant,” said Sherman. “I chose my words very carefully — although I couldn’t control my tone, my delivery left something to be desired — but I definitely understood what I was saying. I purposely didn’t curse, use vulgarity, [but] you’re going to get [called] the angry black man regardless.”
Sherman said he was surprised at the language directed at him, but he said the episode was a valuable way for him to put race relations in the spotlight, which he did in the week leading up to the Super Bowl. He wrote about the use of the word “thug,” and more recently wrote an interesting defense of receiver DeSean Jackson, Sherman’s childhood friend who was cut by the Eagles this offseason, in part because of alleged gang ties.
“I stand for education, philanthropy, and making the world a better place,” he said. “I want to educate people, I want to bring people up, so I felt the need to turn the discussion on its head. “There are no rules on free speech. I can say the NFL sucks — what are they going to do, fine me for that? They can’t fine me for that.”
The other panelists relayed their experiences with racism — Foster said he was once called the N-word by fans at Gillette Stadium — and defended Sherman’s rant.
“If you call Richard Sherman a thug, you have never seen a thug,” Foster said. “Think about when you’re a little kid playing football in your backyard or whatever, and you make the game-winning play to send your team to the Super Bowl. How emotional would you be? I know I would be extremely emotional, so whatever comes out after that, comes out. Who cares? He just made one of the biggest plays of his life, and we’re sitting here talking about a thug.”
Foxworth, a former seven-year cornerback, said Sherman’s episode encouraged him to put together Wednesday’s event.
“He said something, people reacted, and he took that opportunity to force us to have a real conversation which I think is incredibly commendable and I think is a part of today’s modern athlete,” Foxworth said. “He could’ve been the media darling, but instead of forced us to take a look at ourselves.”Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin