Richard Sherman vs. Michael Bennett and the issue with “Respectability Politics”

*I originally wrote this on my Facebook page on September 17th but have since updated it for the site.

I am a big fan of Richard Sherman. On and off the field he’s one of my favorite athletes right now. He’s not afraid to speak his mind and he’s a great Defensive Player. Richard Sherman is never afraid to speak up about political issues and last week he spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement (via SB Nation). More specifically, he was addressing a rumor that he posted an article about BLM under the name King Noble. This is what he said according to the article from SB Nation:

“But I also think that there’s a way to go about things, and there’s a way to do things. And I think the issue at hand needs to be addressed internally, and before we move on, because from personal experience, you know, you have living in the hood, living in the inner city, you deal with things, you deal with people dying. Dealt with a best friend getting killed … it was two 35-year-old black men. Wasn’t no police officer involved, wasn’t anybody else involved, and I didn’t hear anybody shouting “black lives matter” then … and I think that’s the point we need to get to is that we need to deal with our own internal issues before we move forward and start pointing fingers and start attacking other people. We need to solidify ourselves as people and deal with our issues, because I think as long as we have black-on-black crime and, you know, one black man killing another … if black lives matter, then it should matter all the time. You should never let somebody get killed — that’s somebody’s son, that’s somebody’s brother, that’s somebody’s friend. So you should always keep that in mind.”
-Richard Sherman (Seattle Seahawks)

I’m glad Sherman is talking about this, but I am going to have to strongly disagree with him on this though. He’s playing that multicultural liberal game of respectability politics that White folks love.  It gets a bit too respectability politics for my taste, but I’m not surprised. Some might say I have to criticize everything, and I would say: So? It’s what I do as a political anthropologist…
I analyze it and compare it to my political standards as a radical leftest.

For example, Richard Sherman discussed the racist narrative “black on black” crime often used by white supremacy and white folks for years (Ronald Reagan anyone?),  instead of the war on black bodies by the police. This narrative has been used by white supremacy forever; and is what they want you to talk about and focus on to divert any attention away from cops shooting black folks every fucken day. I won’t even get into the fact that the police originated as slave patrols in South Carolina in the 1800’s…

The issue here is having the idea that internal conflict (within the black community) is different from external conflict (getting killed by the police, or by white folks like George Zimmerman, or even going to war). It’s the idea that we must focus on “ourselves” before we fix “the cops” murdering our people discourse. There is no difference. Both conflicts arise from the same source: the state.

Poverty, austerity, lack of resources, are all issues brought on by the state which leads to people doing what they have to do to survive in the hood. That might be by forming rival gangs, selling drugs, sex work, and so on. Now, people have agency, but lets not ignore the external forces of the state that create this problem in the first place.

They both root back to white supremacy and colonization and state violence on black bodies and brown bodies.

The other character in this story is Richard Sherman’s teammate, Seahawks Defensive End Michael Bennett; who suddenly is one of my favorite players. I always loved his game on the Defensive Line. He can rush the QB and stop the run. I wanted him on the Raiders when he hit free agency a couple years ago, but obviously that was a pipe dream.

Michael Bennett was not asked to comment about what Richard Sherman said. Michael, on his own,  decided it was important to address what his teammate said and strongly disagreed and called out Richard Sherman’s “respectability politics.” In an article from Deadspin, Michael Bennett said:

“Oh yes, I was reading Richard Sherman’s quotes yesterday. I would like to say I disagree with some of the things that he said yesterday. I think when people talk about the black lives matter thing, I think he’s misinterpreting it, that black people kill black people, white people kill white people. People kill people every day.

I think the black lives thing is more about the social injustice, not so much the injustice of people killing within the community, it’s about the social injustice of the people that is supposed to protect them,and building the community through the black community. Not just black people too, because you see a lot of people within the Black Lives Matters organization that are white, Spanish, they are all dealing with the same type of hardships that are going on around the world.

I think sometimes people don’t take the time to look into what things really believe, or what’s really going on in the world, and I think when you say something and are in the position he is in, I think sometimes people take it and run with it. I think there are a lot of murders in a lot of communities, but a lot of time it deals with the segregation within the communities around the world. You look around, there is a white neighborhood, a black neighborhood, a Spanish neighborhood, instead of just calling them all American neighborhoods, or American communities. I think a lot of times people just get intertwined with different people and they don’t understand about what is going on in the world.

I think black lives matter a lot, and I agree with the Black Lives Matter movement. And I think a lot of times of people just don’t understand the movement or things that are going on, and it’s all about education and things like that too.

(inaudible question)

Well we had a conversation about it. His opinion is different from mine. My opinion is, I believe in the things that people are trying to do. These things go all the way back to 1955, to Emmett Till. You gotta think about it, the last hanging in America was in the 60s. There’s a lot of social injustice that’s been going on for awhile.

One of my favorite people that I read about all the time is Dick Gregory. I go back checking out his books, and you see what’s going on within the community and the world. Now people are starting to see people for who they are, and not just their color. There is still a small amount of people that want people to see people for their color and not their character’s that they have or the person that they come with or the person who they are or how they were raised. People are too worried about if he’s Spanish or if he’s black or if he’s Chinese, and not just talking to them and saying we’re all just people at the end of the day.”
-Michael Bennett (Seattle Seahawks)

An athlete not from the 60’s is talking about Emmett Till and making the historical connection of the issues faced by black people in the fantasy liberal world of “post racial” society. This made me smile. I hope more athletes like Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett continue to speak more about political issues affecting Black and Brown folks.

Many football fans hate the Seahawks (looking at you 49ers fans).  I am not one of them. As a die hard Oakland Raiders fan it feels weird being cool with one of my old AFC West rivals. Maybe it’s because they’ve been in the NFC West for awhile now, but I am really enjoying this team right now outside of Russell Wilson (which I will discuss in a future post). What’s not to love when you have Beast Mode, Sherman, and Bennett not only playing great on the field, but discussing the political issue that is most important in the U.S. in 2015:


The return of the politically conscious athlete has returned.


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