RENTON — Richard Sherman understands that Seahawks fans see a football crisis nearing, what with a Super Bowl-caliber team sputtering along at 7.5 points a game. But after a few superficial remarks about the 49ers game at his presser Wednesday at team headquarters, he politely pivoted away to address what he sees as a real crisis.
“I’m not going to answer any (football) questions today — no offense to” reporters, he said. “But I think the state of things in the world today is very interesting.”
Disturbed by police shootings of African-American men in Charlotte and Tulsa in the past week , Sherman used his weekly platform to make a point: America is more absorbed in the nature of the protest during national anthems than the substance of the message.
“The reason these guys are kneeling, the reason we’re locking arms, is to bring people together to make people aware that this is not right,” he said calmly. “It’s not right for people to get killed in the street.
“You have players that are trying to take a stand, trying to be aware of social issues, and increase people’s awareness, and they’re being ignored. More videos have come out of guys getting killed, and I think people are still missing the point.”
Sherman said in his community work with kids, he tries to be aspirational about their futures.
“When you tell a kid, ‘When you’re dealing with police, just put your hands up and comply with everything,’” he said, “and there’s still a chance of them getting shot and no repercussions for anyone, that’s an unfortunate time to be living.
“There’s not a lot you can tell a kid. You say, ‘Hey, we need black fathers to be in the community to stay there for your kids.’ But they’re getting killed in the street for nothing, for putting their hands on their cars. That’s the unfortunate place that we’re living in, and something needs to be done.”
Later, at his locker, I asked Sherman whether he had been in touch with anyone from Garfield High School, where last Friday night the entire team knelt during the anthem in support of the cause begun by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose San Francisco 49ers play the Seahawks at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Sherman had had no contact, but read about the episode, and was supportive. I asked about what he would say to high school kids about the risks and rewards of protests that will anger parts of the community as well as some police.
“You just have to be aware,” he said. “I’m sure their coaches and advisors have made them aware of the pros and cons. If they’re steadfast in their beliefs and morals, and it’s productive, they’ll continue to get support. There has to be more action than just kneeling. You have to go out there and address the issue. But as kids in high school, it’s about as much as you can do, to be symbolic.
“They’re showing incredible courage, incredible conviction, incredible unity. It means a lot when you do it as a team. I’m sure everybody didn’t agree on everything fundamentally. Sometimes you have to swallow your pride and go with what the rest of the guys are going with.”
After Kaepernick’s disclosure Tuesday of anonymous death threats via social media he said he received over his protest actions, Sherman was appalled.
“That’s cowardly,” he said. “People write stuff like that and there’s no consequence. No repercussion. It’s always anonymous. They can hide and tweet anything. That’s an unfortunate part of today’s society, that people can hide behind screens and pins and threaten players’ lives and families’ lives. But a player tries to stand for what’s right, and he’s crucified.
“There’s nothing more cowardly than anonymous sources — even when you talk about an anonymous GM, coach, owner or player. That’s a coward. If you really believe what you said, you put your name on it, and deal with the consequences.”
Sherman said he hopes those uninvolved in protest can pause to think about the meaning behind the gesture.
“We support Garfield as we support Kaepernick,” he said. “We support the thought and the belief beyond the gesture. I tried to do it a different way. We all try different ways. But we all are trying to come up with solutions.
“The Garfield players are talking and trying to come up with solutions. For as much power as they can have, they’re exercising it.”
Back at the podium, Sherman closed his remarks with this:
“When a guy takes a knee, you can ignore it. You can say he’s not being patriotic. He’s not honoring the flag. I’m doing none of those things.
“I’m saying it straight up: (The shootings are) wrong and we need to do something. So thank you, guys. Have a blessed day.”
Some fans can’t forgive the perceived disrespect inherent in the protest, others resent the intrusion into their escapes from the world. Sherman, along with the Garfield High team and increasing numbers of athletes around the country, are having a hard time getting past dead bodies in the street.
Art Thiel is co-founder of Sportspress Northwest.