The video doesn't lie. There he was, like some crazed hellfire and brimstone preacher forever screeching at everyone and no one all at once, his eyes perpetually bulging under the strain of a roiling mania that would send most anyone's nerves into a confused frenzy of fight-or-flight signals. Sure, it happened during Sunday's NFC Championship Game and we should all know better than to demand Victorian decorum from sports, but this touched a different vein. It was all plain as day and made its own argument: San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh is a classless thug. A classless thug in "hip-hop" style saggy pants.
No one is saying this about Harbaugh, despite his now seasons-long run of supremely GIF-able sideline hysterics, because you'd be full stop stupid for saying that. Which says quite a lot about a specific and pervasive reaction to Richard Sherman's post-game promo for the ages.
The interview came minutes after Sherman sealed a Super Bowl berth for the Seattle Seahawks by impossibly leaping off his lead foot, twisting towards his back shoulder and deflecting a potentially game-winning Colin Kaepernick pass into Malcolm Smith's hands for the game-deciding interception. It was pretty dope, but not quite as dope as Sherman then breaking the NFL's desired kayfabe and going in on important subjects such as how great Richard Sherman is at football, Michael Crabtree being a dumb loser-face in comparison to Richard Sherman and the metaphysics of Richard Sherman. Also: Richard Sherman.
It was as if Achilles had risen from the dead specifically to taunt Hector anew, but the pretend martialism of football made Sherman's Homeric post-aristeia interview impossible to take seriously, in theory. The practice turned out to be Sherman on the receiving end of all the racist shade known to man. A Twitter search of his name and any anti-black slur one could think of produces an endless mosaic of humanity's inhumanity. No less disturbing is the fact that perusing most any mainstream sports media medium will quickly yield a clumsily coded HOT TAKE that begins by failing to define 'class' and then accuse Sherman of not having any. The two compliment each other like sewage and stench.
While Sherman rightfully has many defenders among both fans and media -- everything he did was pretty awesome after all -- the tone of the defense has been odd. Much of it has centered on repudiating the invective, blatant and coded alike, by engaging the respectability politics that the invective hinges on. Irrelevancies such as Sherman's academic history, philanthropy and natural human complexity being brought forth against criticisms rooted in willfully discarding Sherman's basic humanity ignore the ugly motivations in play.
There is obviously a significant difference between calling Sherman a slur and calling him classless, but the two exist on the same spectrum of ignorance that works to take complex individuals in marginalized groups and hold them hostage to b.s. standards for fair treatment. The stereotype of the black male as inherently dangerous, stupid and unhinged is the one Sherman is held up against and the standards of judgment are impossible by design. It's the worst joke going and not one that takes to reasonable debate. The move is to call it what it is.
Look again to Harbaugh for the proof. At some point in any given game, this man will invariably be found doing his best impression of a pointlessly furious child attempting flight via manic limb flapping. The experience is akin to unintentional performance art on how miserably unequipped we are to deal with life -- I watch this man lose his mind over a game and can only think of nights spent assembling structurally cursed Ikea furniture with impotent fury. It's hilarious to be reminded of those moments when our stupid jobs are being especially stupid. Just as it's horrifying to imagine what would happen if Sherman routinely acted in the same manner.
It's a needless shame all around since what Sherman did is the reason why anyone bothers watching sports. The appeal is that it's unscripted entertainment set within a rigid structure that lends itself to entertainment, and few prove the model's worth as elegantly as Sherman does. In the span of a few minutes he made an instantly immortal game-winning play and cut multiple interviews that felt a breath away from challenging Peyton Manning to a cage match at Wrestlemania. The rush of watching an athlete just be a person -- a flawed, complex, relatable person -- is exceedingly rare and one that should be taken as a reminder that we're all just here for the realness.
No one could ever script all of what happened on Sunday, and that's what makes all of what Sherman did so viscerally memorable. If that's not enough to get you on his side, then nothing will.