Excuses: The Makers and the Users
Twenty-eight year old Richard Sherman made the play that earned the Seahawks the title of 2014 NFL Champions. Immediately after that play, Erin Andrews approached Sherman for a post-game interview. “…that last play, take me through it.” Sherman’s response, which will go down in history as The Sherman rant, seems to have divided people into two broad groups: excuse users (defamers) and excuse makers (defenders).
The “Richard Sherman Excuse Users” contend that his behavior was that of a villain. Their descriptors: villainous and amoral. They call him a thug. They call him a “N” which of course is, in this day of political correctness, viewed as the butcher knife one can use to verbally assault African-Americans.
The stance taken by the “Richard Sherman Excuse Makers” goes something like this, “he had the right to be excited, it’s just who he is, he grew up in Compton, he should be able to say what he wants to say, Erin should’ve waited to interview him …”
Sherman, according to what I’ve learned from comments made by his teammates, his competitors and people who love the game, is an intelligent and talented player who has the right , proud of his game-winning play. He was however as ungracious as he was proud. And, from what I have read, he does seem a tad bit self-absorbed. But does that make him into the things the excuse users said? Absolutely not!
Both the excuse users (we’ll call them “U”) and the excuse makers (we’ll call them “M”) could benefit from getting a grip. The fact is Richard Sherman earned an A plus, plus, plus for the way he executed the winning play and earned an F minus, minus, minus for sportsmanship.
“Us” can be aggravating. However, we should try to muster up a bit of compassion for them. After all, they suffer from an addiction – an addiction to demean others. “Us” name called in an attempt to diminish Sherman’s worth as a football player and as a man. But they were doing what addicts typically do: using anything and every thing as an excuse to get high. What is true and reasonable is of no concern. When you’re looking for an excuse to put another person down, you don’t care whether what you’re saying makes sense or not. The goal is to chip away at that person’s sense of self and experience the “high” that comes with it, however short-lived.
“Ms” can get on your nerve. They are committed to defending someone at all cost. To this end, they attempt to explain, justify, and disprove, in that order. As in the case of Richard Sherman, a friend, who was rightfully upset by the comments explained and justified Sherman’s “rant” by saying, “He’s a 250 pound man, full of testosterone who had just won the game of his life.”
Justifying behavior is often coupled with evidence of that person’s achievements. In this case, Sherman graduated high school with at least a 4.0 GPA. His 3.5 GPA from Stanford, which ranks fifth on the National Best Colleges List is nothing to sneeze at. And, I understand from various sources, he tutors to promote academic excellences and contributes money and time to charities and community programs. All of this speaks volumes about this young man’s values.
But in their attempt to justify Sherman’s behavior are the “Ms” suggesting that the “Us” would be right if Sherman wasn’t academically gifted, hadn’t attended and graduated from Stanford and/or hadn’t grown up in Compton? Are they making a statement about who can and cannot be a thug? Do they, like the “Us” not understand that thugs can live on Long Island in New York or Stony Island in Chicago, wear a $900.00 suit or a $9.00 shirt, carry the American Express Black Card or the State of Illinois Link card?
Just like “Us” put energy into tearing people down, “Ms” put energy into building people up. But here’s the deal. “Ms” can explain and justify, and offer proof until hell freezes over, but nothing that is said, no evidence that is shown, is going to change the minds of “Us.” These are probably some of the same people who said President Obama’s short birth certificate is fake. They demanded the long form. That too, according to them, is fake. Other sources verified his birthplace. The Hawaii Secretary of State, newspapers that carried the birth announcements, Ivalee Sinclair, the wife of the late Dr. David Sinclair, said her husband delivered Obama at the Kopilina Hospital in the State where his birth certificates says he was born and Dr. Sinclair’s daughter verified her father’s signature. And still, as recently as 2013, some people are insisting that President Barack Obama and his lying ass birth certificate – both of them – is the reason a foreigner is the President of the United States. See what I mean?
So why bother? Why do “Ms” work so hard? Because the primary purpose of excuse making is to shield the person and the sociocultural group to which he or she belongs from descriptions that perpetuate hurtful stereotypes and so foster fear, anger and discrimination. It’s a way of saying, “If you attach that label to one of us, you have attached it to all of us. It’s true. It’s understandable. And, it’s hard to argue against. But here’s the problem. Excuse making is as seductive as excuse using. It requires people to bury their heads in the sand with the rose-colored glasses on. Just as is true for excuse using, excuse making requires that you not see things, not acknowledge things, not consider things. Justifying behavior becomes the priority and is momentarily more rewarding than promoting self-awareness and personal growth even if, in the long run, the person for whom excuses are made pays the price. Richard Sherman’s excuse makers, some of whom are former football players, are giving the impression that this post game “rant” is new and unusual behavior for Sherman. It is not.
People can get so caught up in using and making excuses, they say stuff that makes so sense. For instance, excuse user Andre Iquodala accused Sherman of setting us back 500 years. Does he mean Sherman set us African-Americans back to 1514 which was way before people had to make that long and laborious trip, by horse and buggy, to Sears and Roebuck to buy everything they needed?
Excuse maker ManofGod (online name) said, in response to Goodall fining Sherman $7,875 for taunting, “NOTHING slave master Goodall does surprises me anymore.” Does ManofGod mean to compare the “Slave Master” who placed a value of one million four hundred and thirty-four thousand, six hundred and six dollars on Sherman’s head after asking him to please stand on the NFL auction block to a slave master Isabel Wilkerson describe in The Warmth of Other Suns?
“Come on in, John,” the planter said. ”Come here, boy. Come here. Have a seat. Sit down here.”
The planter pulled out his books. “Well John,” the planter began. “Boy, we had a good year, John.”
“Yes sir, Mr. Reshard. I’m sure glad to hear that.”
“We broke even. You don’t owe me nothing. And I don’t owe you nothing.”
The grandfather had nothing to show for a year’s hard toiling in the field.
“This is all he ends up with, ‘We broke even,’” George would say years later. He has no money, no nothing for his family. And now he is ready to start a new year in the master’s debt.”
The driving force behind the “U” and “M” is different but the desired outcome is the same. Each wants to influence how an individual, and a particular group, is perceived. To this end, they function much like opposing teams; passing words just as players pass the ball and hoping with each pass to get another point on the score board of public opinion. The ultimate goal is to win. “Us” will declare themselves the winners when a perceived number of people who repeat their rhetoric and adapt the corresponding attitude increases. “Ms” will declare themselves the winner based on a perceived decrease in the number of people who are repeating “Us” words and adopting their practices. But what if there can be no winner? What if the only realistic outcome is big losers?
Richard Sherman has earned the right to be called the best Cornerback in the league. If the Seahawks win the Super bowl, he will receive and wear with pride the 2014 Super bowl ring and as has been pointed out in the media, his skills to play and to “rant” will earn him millions in endorsements.
The needs of the excuse user to defame and excuse makers to defend will increase exponentially with Sherman’s fame and his wealth. And each in some small way will directly and indirectly play a role in whether the grade Richard earns for his sportsmanship will eventually match the grade he is sure to earn because of his extraordinary skills.
Nothing is ever just what it seems to be. Who would have thought a super bowl game and the behavior of a young African-American male would afford us the opportunity to think about the power of excuses? The words that will help me think about my own excuse using and excuse making were written in 1943. “You are responsible forever for what you tame.” And each of us, says the fox to the Little Prince, have a rose for which we are responsible.