A Fatherhood 101 Thing

This past Sunday was a big day for the National Football League, featuring two conference championship games. Interestingly, the biggest news event to come out of the two games was the behavior of Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks.

In the waning seconds of Seattle’s battle with the 49ers, Sherman made a terrific defensive play that clinched his team’s victory. He was understandably rather, um, excited. He exchanged some words with 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree. Crabtree shoved him away so Sherman began taunting his opponents, holding up his hands to his throat as if to say, “You choked!” The game ended a few minutes later and Fox’s Erin Andrews asked him about that play. Sherman unloaded a barrage of braggadocio and trash talk, calling himself the best in the game and warning people not to “say anything” about him. He seemed to me an all-too-typical athlete, concerned about being “dissed” (as in, “disrespected”) by opponents and fans alike. A boy with a giant chip on his shoulder, a would-be man with something to prove, and he wanted to announce to the world that he had, in fact, proved “it.” Whatever “it” is. I’m no expert, but I don’t think anyone ever doubted that Richard Sherman is a terrific football player.

The reaction throughout the virtual world of the Internet was instantaneously negative. People mocked Sherman, speculated about drug abuse, and basically noted in colorful terms his all-around jackassery. And it was the most off-putting post game interview I’ve ever seen, that’s for sure. The only one I can remember being in the neighborhood of that bad was Josh Beckett’s post-World Series victory interview in 2003. It was off-putting for similar reasons: the familiar chip on the shoulder, “Everyone doubted me, but I showed them!” rhetoric, and all-around lack of class. 

I want to explain something I tweeted in the aftermath of Sherman’s interview. This is the honest truth: the first thing I thought after watching that arrogant, graceless, classless performance was to wonder whether Richard Sherman had (has?) a Dad. That might seem like a weird thing to wonder. And I still don’t know the answer, even after glancing through some Google results.

It isn’t just that fatherlessness is one of the most pressing social problems in the black community, but it is partly that. I spent four years living in a predominantly black, urban neighborhood, and I can tell you from firsthand observation the toll on the eighty percent of black children living without a father. Here’s my theory, and I think it’s more than a theory. I think it is common sense. Boys abandoned by their fathers will grow up to have massive chips on their shoulders. Why? Because they didn’t measure up enough to be loved. They were treated like worthless baggage as they came into the world. How could you not be fundamentally insecure? You are literally born with “something to prove.” Your very worth is a giant question mark hanging over your life. So being “respected” (or at least not being “dissed”) becomes the all-consuming idol around which everything revolves. I think this explains an awful lot of “posses” and “entourages.” Imagine having other people’s lives revolve around how important and worthwhile you are. Compensating. Big time.

More than that prompted my question, however. Fathers teach their sons something about sportsmanship. They can’t help it. I know I’m generalizing. There are notorious examples of obnoxious Dads living vicariously through their kids' participation in sports, and they can mold their kids to be just as arrogant as anyone else. But I do think those are the exceptions to the rule. It seems to me the vast majority of fathers try to teach their kids to be gracious both in victory and defeat. In victory, you divert attention from yourself, variously, to God, your teammates, your coaches, et cetera. You praise the worthiness of your opponent. In defeat, you congratulate your opponent without complaint or bitterness. You “hold your head high,” my Dad always used to say. Modesty is the mark of a respectable sportsman, and everybody knows it.

Even Dads who really are arrogant about their kids generally teach them to pretend to be modest in victory and defeat. It’s sort of basic life instruction. Even if your life’s goal is to be admired and liked (which it shouldn’t be), you don’t accomplish that acting like an arrogant fool when you win. That’s a Fatherhood 101 thing, I think. 

When I see somebody clueless about these really basic things, when I see somebody parade unfiltered raw arrogance for the world to see, when I see somebody demanding the respect of others while dissing others, I really do doubt they had a Dad. If they did, then I suspect their Dad didn't have a Dad. I read somewhere something about sins of the fathers flowing downstream a few generations...

Brian Mattson