Bigger Than Football: Richard Sherman Speaks Out on the Need for Sports to Invoke Social Change

In response to the recent outrage caused by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, members of the NFL are speaking up to advocate for social justice and unity. Several members of the San Francisco 49ers continued the conversation by joining the #BlackoutTuesday efforts to express solidarity with those protesting the acts behind Floyd's murder and countless others.

Richard Sherman was a guest on an NFL Total Access forum alongside former NFL defensive end Chris Long and NFL Network's Jim Trotter and Steve Wyche to discuss the direct correlation between athletes and combating social issues.

Wyche began the roundtable discussion with the sentiment that viewers don't "watch the NFL Network to hear about political things." However, each panelist expressed the awareness that athletes' voices can't and shouldn't be limited because of their respective professions.

While many are battling the ongoing concerns surrounding this country, Trotter and the group were in agreement that the essential conversation at hand is in fact "bigger than football."

Here is Sherman's response to the conversation and how the "sticking to sports" rhetoric is not an option in today's sports world.

Sherman on the message he and various athletes are trying to convey:

The frustrating part is that the people that the message is trying to get through to are unwilling to accept the message. And when you're combative and defensive about something you don't even fully understand, there can't be progress. So whenever somebody says, 'Hey, this black man got killed on national TV in front of the world,' there should be a sense of anger from everybody, regardless of race. It was just wrong. It was just unacceptable. Everybody gets to see their day in court. And there's been a ton of images out there floating around about the two kids who shot the church and (were) mass murderers and not only did they peacefully arrest them, but they gave them the vest - took them to go get lunch. And this man, who was accused of a crime, come to find out he didn't actually commit, was treated like this. And it was on camera, this time. And as somebody who was born in Watts, California and raised in Compton and seen some terrible things, you understand that it's not always on camera. It's just these few incidents you guys have caught on camera. There are hundreds of thousands of incidents you don't catch on camera. Thousands of innocent men sitting in jail cells, because it's word of mouth that has put them there.

And so that's where people are getting frustrated and this has become a tipping point because regardless of the circumstances of the situation - even if he committed a crime. Put him under arrest. Put him in the car, take him and let him have his day in court. But to think that it's okay for three officers to be on top of him, and one office on the side watching, and there's also video evidence of them kind of roughing him up in the car, that's not okay. And it wouldn't have been okay for them to do it to mass murderers who are white, who came and shot innocent people. It wouldn't have been okay for them to stop them and not let them see their day in court. But the way those situations were approached is what a lot of people see problems with. Because the man wasn't a threat. So if the man isn't a threat and he can't see his day in court, and two men who were actually full threats killed (and) murdered. They were real threats. They were threatening. They had guns. And you didn't feel the fear or the anxiety to 'Pull the trigger. Let me shoot this guy before he shoots me'' that you do when a guy's unarmed, then that's part of the problem.

Sherman on the importance of athletes and fans supporting the larger issue at hand:

Sports brings so many people together. And those same people who wear the jerseys who, cheer on their favorite players, they don't think about race or ethnicity or anything when they're cheering on their favorite player on their favorite team. But as soon as you leave that stadium, as soon as you go outside of sports, then it matters to some people.

And I'm not saying it's 'all' because it's not. But some of these arguments that I've seen on social media of, 'Hey, there were white people killed'. I saw somebody say, maybe a few months ago, a guy was killed the same way and he was white. And they're like, 'there wasn't the same backlash and there wasn't the same outrage.' Yeah, that's another reason for you to support this cause.

And that was another reason for you to support (former NFL quarterback Colin) Kaepernick's cause, because he didn't say police brutality simply against black people. We just said, police brutality.

Those people are the same people that are the problem because they're not looking for a solution to the issue. They're just looking for a combative way to rationalize fighting against the issue and that's the frustrating part. It's like, 'Hey, police brutality, whether it's against Blacks, Whites, Indians, Hispanics, you name it - It's wrong.' It's not right. It needs to change. And that's what a lot of people are fighting for now. But people have been through 400 years of slavery, oppression and a lot more in this country than people want to talk about. And that's why they say Black Lives Matter and that's at the forefront of this argument.

But police reform and them having accountability is something that needs to change for a long time now. People don't want to go through the history books of the police being used to catch slaves and being used in black neighborhoods to police black people and fill up private prisons and that whole deal. That's a long story that we don't need to get into. But I think that sports is one of those things that really transcends race and ethnicity and all those issues, while you're in sports. You can have someone that's racist, and they can cheer for black players and maybe even buy a jersey. But that's not going to change their morals and their fundamental thoughts about how race is in America and how they truly feel. They can turn it off to cheer for their favorite player on their favorite team, but I wish we could turn that off period.

Sherman on the response of head coaches like New Orleans Saints Sean Payton and Miami Dolphins Brian Flores to evoke change:

There's an appreciation, obviously, from their players but those players know Sean Payton. Brian Flores' players know Brian Flores. And it's not to really say anything about any other coaches, but those people felt in their heart that they are willing and able to stand out at the forefront and take the risks that are necessary to make this statement. And I think it says a lot about them and their character. And hopefully more coaches speak up.

Especially when you deal with African American players on a day-to-day basis and you see and understand the trials and tribulations that they go through on a day-to-day basis. College kids talking to their parents and understanding, 'Hey, these kids go through these issues. They're coming from these very tough neighborhoods where police are trained to police differently. In a white suburban neighborhood, the police are trained to protect and serve. In the inner city, in a predominately Black, Hispanic, Polynesian, whatever - in a poor neighborhood, they're taught to police different. They're taught to fill prisons with those kids, those families, those people. And that's what needs to change.

So I'm honored (and) I'm grateful for the voice of those coaches because they are powerful. And they reach a different crowd than the athletes speaking up. Everybody's reaching a different crowd. And those coaches speaking up resonates different with some people. So it's appreciated.

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