Charles Krupa/AP
Charles Krupa/AP

The Dialogue Moves Forward

At a Harvard seminar, three of the NFL’s brightest and most engaged stars—Larry Fitzgerald, Arian Foster and Richard Sherman—continued the discussion on race in sports sparked by THAT interview in January

By
Jenny Vrentas
· More from Jenny·

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Of all the people who had an opinion about Richard Sherman following his famous on-field interview after the NFC Championship Game, here was one name the Seahawks cornerback hadn’t heard before: Bill Clinton.

The 42nd U.S. President sat in a box for the Seahawks’ Super Bowl XLVIII win along with Domonique Foxworth, the president of the NFL Players Association at the time. Foxworth finally relayed what he heard to Sherman yesterday, during a panel discussion at Harvard Business School—that seemed as good a time as any.

“President Clinton was saying how he believed you were misunderstood, and you were one of his favorite players,” Foxworth told Sherman. “I just wanted to share that with you, because it’s important. He’s a thought leader, and he didn’t have to say that—we were just watching the game.”

That’s a big part of why Sherman was at Harvard yesterday as a “visiting professor,” along with Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Texans running back Arian Foster. Foxworth, now a first-year MBA student at Harvard, invited the three players to speak on campus because of the way they move the needle off the field.

Fitzgerald has taken on philanthropic causes in the U.S. and worldwide. Foster visited Occupy Wall Street and has made a persistent call for NCAA players to be compensated for their labor. But it was mainly Sherman who inspired Foxworth to ask his former NFL colleagues to headline two standing-room only panel discussions, one at Harvard Business School and the other with Harvard undergraduates—not because of what Sherman said in that interview with Erin Andrews, but rather how he handled the public reaction. Sherman, starting with his column for The MMQB, changed the discussion by asking critics of his charged interview why he, an African-American from Compton, Calif., with a Stanford degree, had been labeled a “thug.”

Part of the discussion was meant to cover athlete’s social-media image, but the discussion kept returning to race. (Jenny Vrentas/The MMQB)
The players and Foxworth had some testy exchanges with the students.  (Jenny Vrentas/The MMQB)

“He took that opportunity to force us to have a real conversation, which I think is incredibly commendable and is part of today’s modern athlete,” Foxworth said. “I think a lot of what our athletes are today is more like the athletes of the ’60s and the ’70s, the black athletes of that age, especially John Carlos and Tommie Smith. They worked their entire life to win that sprint, and on the medal stand, rather than basking in the glory of their achievement, they put up the fist and let everyone know there was a problem.”

The comparison to the political statement made by the two American sprinters at the 1968 Summer Olympics is a strong one. But Foxworth made that link, because as both traditional media and social media today have made athletes more accessible, he sees a group of players using that platform to advance social causes mattering to them—whether it be gay rights, charitable aid or race relations.

“It is something I consciously think about,” Sherman said on his way off the Harvard campus. “The bias, the racial discrimination, the classism has continued, so when this discussion is happening, it’s still relevant today. The change is still happening.”

When one student asked how the depiction of black athletes can be changed, Foster fired back, “You’ve got to tell me what the depiction is right now — it’s your depiction.”

Because of the interview heard around the U.S., Sherman was in front of hundreds of Harvard students, continuing the discussion he fueled. Each panel was intended to have a different focus—“Social Capital of the Savvy Athlete” in the first, and “Race and Justice in Big Time Sports” in the second—but both sessions kept coming back to race.

Today’s athletes still grapple with issues such as being called the n-word by opposing fans, as Foster said happened to him during a road game at the Patriots’ Gillette Stadium. Said Foster, “But you have black people on your team, too. I don’t know what their goal was.” He watched the aftermath of Sherman’s interview from afar, and called the way his peer handled the fallout in the foreground of the game’s biggest stage “brilliant.”

Today’s black athletes are still inspired by the gesture of Smith and Carlos in Mexico City in ’68. (AP)
Foxworth sees today’s more active athletes carrying on the legacy of Smith and Carlos in Mexico City in ’68. (AP)

“If you call Richard Sherman a thug, you have never seen a thug. That’s not to discount [Sherman’s] street credibility,” Foster said. “To have those discussions at Super Bowl Media Day, that’s huge. I don’t really care how I’m viewed today, or how an athlete is viewed today, just as long as we get that conversation started.”

The conversation, though, is not an easy one, even for those who initiate it. In one tense moment yesterday, Sherman bristled at a Harvard undergraduate who asked if the cornerback’s creating a controversy, and then responding to it, is the most successful strategy. Later, when a Wellesley College junior asked how the depiction of black athletes can be changed, Foster fired back, “You’ve got to tell me what the depiction is right now — it’s your depiction.”

There is no neat box for the subject of race in sports, but rather an onion with many layers to peel back. But three months after finding himself at the center of a firestorm that shocked even him, Sherman—a man likely soon to become the league’s highest-paid cornerback—sees a relatively tidy moral to that story.

“The lashing we’ve taken isn’t that crazy,” Sherman said. “You see us still walking, talking, moving, grooving. I think the fear of the backlash and the media perception and the judgment and the criticism is starting to get tempered. How much bad can you talk about a person? How much negativity can you bring a person? … The criticism eventually stops. It eventually turns around and turns positive.”

You can read all of Richard Sherman’s In This Corner columns for The MMQB here.

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53 comments
number18
number18

Fitzgerald is the Only NonThug of the group.So foster visited a group of anarchists, BFD.

Buck2185
Buck2185

I feel bad for Fitzgerald and Foster. Two class guys getting clumped in a group with the loud mouthed punk Sherman......

JackReacher32
JackReacher32

The conversation immediately post comments Sherman made was nothing short of shocking for me. I was not expecting there to be such a wealth of uneducated lambastings to be unleashed on a player who has been wildly entertaining on and off the field, while also being a very quality person away from football.

The racist undertones that still reside amongst our population is tough to swallow at best and is quite disturbing at worst

All that said, Sherman has done a wonderful job of keeping his cool, answering honestly, and offering on opportunity for all of us to have a conversation I thought we were finished having.

number18
number18

Yeah dem harvard folks can loin a lot from dees folks.

lajolla44
lajolla44

Message: check your prejudices and bias at the door and let's swing the spotlight on an uncomfortable subject and through dialog ... For God's sake ... Learn something. I applaud the panel and Harvard for hosting, however what was missing was Crabtree. He must have an opinion on the backlash and I would have liked to hear it in this forum.

JayReardon
JayReardon

Maybe the Harvard students and faculty can teach these guys how to ruin the world and get away with just some fines!  Paging Larry Summers, Jaime Dimon, et.al.

Stephen H
Stephen H

Fitzgerald and Foster yes. I would like to hear their opinions. An attention starved bully like Sherman has no business speaking at Harvard.

Buck2185
Buck2185

Kind of fitting - A hopped up on Adderral, loud mouthed punk is receiving the support from a lying, cheating Bill Clinton. Maybe they will both be on next seasons "Dancing with the Stars",  can take some Adderral, and then do an interview with Erin Andrews....

riddlewh
riddlewh

Well lets talk about some of these things. Players want to use the N word. Don't be surprised when fans use it back. Clean-up your act first before pointing fingers. Once you do that then you can start calling out the racists.


On the depiction black athletes, I won't limit to just blacks but if you want to get yourself tat up, wear lots of gold, and wear  a baseball cap sideways during a conference with the press you'll learn that our perceptions are shaped by what we see. Sherman as a communication major should know that the vast majority of communication between people is non-verbal.


Finally on Sherman, I like the guy, but it seems anything he doesn't like he'll turn to racism as the reason. People make a big deal out of players fighting in the NFL but not in baseball or hockey? All about racism. Sorry, I don't buy it, more has to do with the culture of the sports (hockey) or responding when someone tried to take your head off with  fastball, by accident or on purpose, then with race. Just my opinion.

read.jk
read.jk

@Buck2185 I was going to say that you have no idea what you're talking about, but your problem is much worse than that. You have the ability to look for understanding about Sherman (or anybody else you initially decide you don't like), but you don't because it's so easy for you to sit back and talk instead of know. You should look up what Sherman has had to go through to get where he is. You should also realize that people don't get into Stanford like you do a community college. You have to be so much more than just highly intelligent with good grades in high school. The great thing about ignorance is that it can be changed. The worst kind of ignorance is one that refuses to try - Buck. 

SpencerForHire
SpencerForHire

@lajolla44  Crabtree never attended classes when he was in college. It'd be really tough to ask him to come back now and go to one. 

pirate
pirate

@lajolla44   It wasn't a football discussion. Crabtree's response wasn't the point, or the issue.

read.jk
read.jk

@Stephen H  So, how is he a bully? Is it because he doesn't let people catch a ball? You're right! That is SOOO rude! As for being attention starved...go to Hollywood and take a good look at the people who work there.

pirate
pirate

@Stephen H   Sounds like someone with preconceived notions who doesn't understand or want to understand what the whole conversation was about.

BigSchtick
BigSchtick

@Stephen H Attention Starved? Everyone seeks him out. Problem is he has an opinion and states it. Some people just don't like that.

Bully? Are you Mrs. Crabtree?

AnthonyS.Andrews
AnthonyS.Andrews

@Stephen H Agreed. I feel as though the main reason for Richard Sherman's popularity is that he is a firebrand. One who creates controversy rather than avoiding it.

pirate
pirate

@Buck2185   Really? That's what you've got? Two references to Adderall and a shot at Clinton?

eddie767
eddie767

You obviously don't know how someone on Adderal acts. If he had been on it he would've been calm. But, like most idiots, you know less than you think but don't want anyone else to know it. As for Clinton, he had his faults but he did his job. Let Hillary deal with them though unless you want someone in your lousy relationship(s).

BigSchtick
BigSchtick

@Buck2185 Another Buck gem. I wish your village would find you and lock you up.

J-man
J-man

@riddlewh yes but even though you say certain things you disagree with him about "arent about race", there are racial undertones to it all. You talk about "tats and backward hats" like its some signifier of ignorance (which shows ignorance on your part). 


you talk about fans using the n-word in a derogotory fashion and equating it to how some black people use it, which cant be equated because of the intent behind it. Its commonplace for racists to say "not everything i disgree without about makes me a racist", yet every point has race underlying it

Braktooth
Braktooth

@riddlewh So, let me see if I've got this straight. In your opinion, the reaction to Sherman would have had to have been 100% race-related for him to question it, or for there to be a problem?


Right.

ProfessorGriff
ProfessorGriff

@riddlewh  yeah cause there was absolutely NOTHING race based about the backlash Sherman received after the post NFC title game rant

number18
number18

@read.jk @Buck2185Wait---are there tens of thousands of Stanford graduates,or is sherman the ONLY one---to listen to this thug and his groupies HE is the only one.

Buck2185
Buck2185

@read.jk @Buck2185 Could the fact that Sherman is an extremely good football player have anything to do with his getting into Stanford. When you finally extracate yourself from his rear, let's chat....

kenc29
kenc29

@AnthonyS.Andrews @Stephen H  You do realize that at HBS, the issues of marketing, PR, dealing with public controversy, are all issues that are relevant.

Buck2185
Buck2185

@pirate @Buck2185 When your mommy lets you out of the basement, see if you can come up with something better than that..

Buck2185
Buck2185

@eddie767 Thank you for attacking me and calling me names. And I'm the idiot.....

Jason1988
Jason1988

Adderall has different effects on different people. Your second sentence is false. 

riddlewh
riddlewh

@Braktooth Wrong, try again. He is free to question the actions of others but some soul searching should take place too. Put yourself in the shoes of someone else and try to see how they would perceive your actions. Not every time someone disagrees with you is it about race and I would say the majority of time it isn't about race.

riddlewh
riddlewh

@ProfessorGriff@riddlewh From some people it was, from others it wasn't. I'm sure Carroll speaking with him was all race based, never would have done that with a white player....

BigSchtick
BigSchtick

@number18 Is there a point here somewhere, other than the one on the top of your pillow case?

read.jk
read.jk

@Buck2185 @BigSchtick @Stephen H  I don't like the WWF, so I don't watch it. I also don't like reality shows so I don't watch them, either. Opera is not a style of music I'm into so I go for something else. I have a hard time running, so I go for a bike ride, instead. In other words, if I don't like something, I tend not to be there when it's happening. Suggestion.


Are you getting a clearer picture, yet? 

BigSchtick
BigSchtick

@Buck2185

Buck, he is not calling you on the phone. Don't read his comments, just a thought. Then again it is really about you and your issues, isn't it? Come on, be honest and come out of the closet. You are a racist, just come clean.

el80ne
el80ne

@Buck2185 @pirateBuck, you are the definition of the loser in your mom's basement with nothing better to do than troll Sherman articles, Patriot fans, and pretty much anyone you can troll. Takes on to know one eh?

djomination
djomination

He didn't necessarily call you a name but said rather you are similar to an idiot. You interpreted it as an attack on your intelligence.

pirate
pirate

@Buck2185 @BigSchtick  Hey Buck, in case you missed it, the reference to a village was his way of calling you an idiot.

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