Charles Barkley, Richard Sherman and the whitewashing of sports

In the 1990s the verbal tsunami that was Charles Barkley took Phoenix, the NBA and the sports world by storm. His unique brand of brutal honesty and in your face attitude captured people’s imaginations, earned him commercials flaunting and celebrating said attitude and even led to a video game entitled “Barkley: Shut Up and Jam!” which ironically encapsulated it all.

Was he controversial? Of course. Did he grab headlines and have people judge him? No doubt. The thing was, it never stopped Charles from being Charles. It added to his legend and also earned him a job as a media darling post basketball saying the same things he did during his playing career.

It happened in a time long before social media, websites, blogs and a 24-hour sports news cycle filled with talking heads looking to dissect anything that could gain them more personal attention.

This is the world that Richard Sherman finds himself in. A world where he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

Just a week after he set the world on fire with a post-game interview that was tame by some of the standards set by Barkley and other predecessors, the shutdown corner is being criticized by the throngs of media gathered to cover the Super Bowl. No, he’s not being criticized for his comments after the NFC Championship Game. He’s being scrutinized for his not saying anything interesting at all upon his arrival in New York — or is that the swamplands of New Jersey? — for the big game.

 

Hey America, you can’t have it both ways.

Sherman’s impassioned interview with FOX Sports was a Gladiator moment. He starred America straight in the face after metaphorically decapitating the 49ers and screamed “Are you not entertained?!?!?” And we were, just long enough to tear him down.

What was the reasoning behind the media, and certain people’s, visceral reaction to the moment? Was it because people put themselves in Erin Andrews shoes and felt uncomfortable? Was it due to the fact that our favorite pastime as a country, other than watching football on Sundays, is to build people up just to tear them down? Or is it something completely different and potentially more nefarious?

The answer doesn’t matter. What matters is that it happened and then, as a calculation to the outrage, Sherman has changed the way he handles the media. A change that has led to people criticizing him all over again.

Sherman was wrongly accused of being a “thug” among other ignorant terms thrown around by people who didn’t take the time to get to know the man behind the comments. Now he’s being wrongly accused of being boring, calculated and uninteresting.

The world we live in now has cost us athletes being honest, open and unique. It’s hurt our ability to get to know these players for who they are and see their real personalities. Everything is about “the brand” or about making sure not to rock the boat.

Richard Sherman was different. He was willing to give us what we really want from sports, entertainment, and share his honest thoughts right after competing on the gridiron. Now, thanks to unfair scrutiny, he’s just another list of cliches as if he took Crash Davis’ master course during his time at Stanford. (Yeah, that’s right, the guy you thought seemed uneducated went to and graduated from a top academic school with a degree, coincidentally, in communications.)

We once celebrated the unique, the intense, the honest and the showmen. Now we dissect their every last move on and off the field to the point that it’s easier to be bland than anything else. You have to wonder if Barkley had been drafted in 2004 instead of 1984 if he would have fallen prey to the whitewashing of sports.