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Richard Sherman and Being Black, Talented, and Arrogant

Richard Sherman

When you're a public figure, there are rules. Here's one: A public personality can be Black, talented, or arrogant, but he can't be any more than two of these traits at a time. It's why antics and soundbites from guys like Brett Favre, Johnny Football and Bryce Harper seem almost hyper-American, capable of capturing the country's imagination, but Black superstars like Sherman, Floyd Mayweather, and Cam Newton are seen as polarizing, as selfish, as glory boys, as distasteful and perhaps offensive. It's why we recoil at Kanye West's rants, like when West, one of the greatest musical minds of our generation, had the audacity to publicly declare himself a genius (was this up for debate?), and partly why, over the six years of Barack Obama's presidency, a noisy, obstreperous wing of the GOP has seemed perpetually on the cusp of calling him "uppity." Barry Bonds at his peak was Black, talented, and arrogant; he was a problem for America. Joe Louis was Black, talented, and at least outwardly humble; he was "a credit to his race, the human race," as Jimmy Cannon once wrote.

All this is based on the common, very American belief that Black males must know their place, and more tellingly, that their place is somewhere different than that of Whites. It's been etched into our cultural fabric that to act as anything but a loud, yet harmless buffoon or an immensely powerful, yet humble servant is overstepping. It's uppity. It is, as Fox Sports's Kayla Knapp tweeted last night, petrifying. The problem is that it's not just White folks who feel this way.

Too many of us think that one ecstatic, triumphant Black man showing honest, human emotion just seconds after making a play that very well could be written into the first appositive of his obituary, is not only offensive, but is also representative of the tens of millions of Blacks in this country. And in two weeks time, in the year 2014, too many of us will be rooting for the Denver Broncos for no other reason than to knock Richard Sherman down a few notches, if only to put him back in his place.

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