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Is Richard Sherman a thug? It’s all in the eye of the beholder

Jonathan P Hicks | 1/31/2014, noon

In the aftermath of his television comments during a post-NFC Championship Game fit of rather innocent bravado, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman has been vilified by commentators and even politicians as something of a thug and a loudmouth. He has been condemned by people throughout the country—including Arizona Sen. John McCain—who have found his behavior indefensible.

The fact of the matter is that these perspectives on Sherman say a good deal more about the people making the comments than they do about the Seattle player himself. It is yet another modern example of how Americans are more inclined to come to conclusions about people based on a number of superficial impressions rather than a more discerning study of that person’s story.

But looking into the personality of Sherman is precisely what Chris Hayes of MSNBC did recently in a brilliant interview. In their discussion, it became immediately clear that Sherman is someone far different from the caricature presented by his attackers and by McCain. What emerged from the interview was the portrait of a man who was raised in the gritty world of Compton, Calif., graduated from one of the nation’s foremost colleges, Stanford University, and used his celebrity and influence to encourage young people to pursue education.

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Jonathan P. Hicks

Far from being a thug, Sherman is clearly a bright, thoughtful and articulate man who is more inclined to give his attackers the benefit of the doubt than those people have afforded him.

“Do you feel like the story getting built in the run-up to the game is like Peyton Manning is the hero and Richard Sherman is the villain?” Hayes asked Sherman, speaking of McCain’s comments. “Like, that’s the good guy and you’re the bad guy?”

Sherman replied: “I don’t see it that way. Maybe in his circle, but I’m sure he’s said worse than that. And I think I try not to judge people on what they say or what they do. His opinion is what it is, and he’s entitled to it.”

The fact is simply that some Americans saw Sherman in a moment of bluster, asserting his own bona fides as a player. From my perspective, that seems perfectly unremarkable, given the culture of American sports, particularly within the National Football League. But as we have learned by incidents as varied as Trayvon Martin to Jonathan Ferrell, some Americans are quick to come to conclusions about African-Americans based on the most superficial impressions.

What might, indeed, qualify far more appropriately into the category of thuggish behavior is the recent tirade by Rep. Michael Grimm, a Republican of Brooklyn and Staten Island. Grimm threatened NY1 reporter Michael Scotto in the nastiest of intimidations, threatening to throw him over the balcony of the United States Capitol in an aborted interview after the president’s State of the Union message.

The FBI is investigating a fundraiser for Grimm on charges that she illegally directed more than $10,000 into the campaign of Grimm, who has been the subject of federal investigations into accusations that he or his campaign illegally solicited money from foreign donors. And when the reporter raised the topic, Grimm went, well, ballistic.

“I’ll break you in half,” Grimm told Scotto.

Far from apologizing, Grimm issued a statement saying that he agreed to speak only about the president’s speech and that he was blindsided by questions about the federal investigations. He offered that explanation as though it was a reasonable rationale for brutish behavior.

If there is a message here, it is that there is a good deal of thuggish behavior in this season of America’s history. It can be found in Grimm’s behavior. It was on national display in Rep. Joe Wilson’s heckling of President Barack Obama in the 2009 State of the Union speech. But it certainly is nowhere near the case in the actions of Sherman.