NFL Great Richard Sherman, CTE, Racism and Intellectually Corrupt Sports Journalists

Wondering aloud whether Sherman suffers from CTE directly leads to difficult questions about the exploitive relationship between the NFL owners, who are virtually all white, and the players, 70 percent of whom are African American.

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No one who takes domestic violence seriously could fault police officers for arresting Richard Sherman after seeing security footage of the NFL cornerback hurling himself repeatedly into the front door of a suburban Seattle home like a bantamweight missile, or hearing the 911 recording of his wife telling the emergency operator that Sherman is inebriated, “belligerent” and threatening suicide.

Richard Sherman: A legend on the field and off. Fair Use.

For all of the news media’s breathless reportage on the athlete’s arrest and ensuing felony charges, however, virtually no outlet questioned whether Sherman – who has played 10 years in the NFL – is exhibiting classic signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the fatal brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head. Known as CTE, the condition can only be diagnosed post-mortem. A 2017 study by Boston University’s School of Medicine found it neuropathologically diagnosed in 110 of 111 of the autopsies performed on retired NFL players

The behavior described by Sherman’s wife in her 911 call is consistent with the symptoms most commonly associated with CTE: memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, anxiety, suicidal behavior.

Pathologists have also discovered advanced cases of CTE in the brain tissue of several NFL players who committed suicide, including New England Patriots tight end and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez; Hall of Fame linebacker and 10-time All-Pro Junior Seau; and former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson. Two of Sherman’s peers – former Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson and retired safety Phillip Adams – committed suicide this year.

In April, the 32-year-old Adams bizarrely murdered a South Carolina physician and four others, including two children, before turning the gun on himself. “I think the football messed him up,” his father, Alonzo Adams, said in an interview with reporters.

Phillip Adams: Fair Use.

The media’s curious dearth of curiosity underscores the critical role the Fourth Estate plays in our dysfunctional democracy. Contrary to how the founding fathers envisioned it, today’s mainstream journalism does not challenge the official narrative but instead repeats it in an effort to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted. 

What’s lost is the conversation – or the “dialectic” as the Marxists call it – that is the predicate for societal transformation. You needn’t be a cynic to understand that sports journalists for ESPN or the Washington Post are reticent to ask questions that would make the lords of finance – their bosses or certainly friends of their bosses –uncomfortable.

Wondering aloud whether Sherman suffers from CTE leads directly to difficult questions about the exploitive relationship between the NFL owners, who are virtually all white, and the players, 70 percent of whom are African American; or, questions about whether the players’ union, the National Football League’s Players’ Association, is an effective advocate for the rank-and-file or in bed with the owners as many players have alleged over the years; or, even questions about the use of “race-norming” by NFL neuropsychologists to evaluate claims of dementia, which relies on discredited science that African Americans have lower intelligence than whites and therefore must meet a higher standard to prove that harm accrued from their NFL playing career.

The 33-year old Sherman graduated from high school with a 4.2-grade point average and attended Stanford on both an academic and athletic scholarship. He is widely respected by his peers for his outspokenness and philanthropy as well as his reputation as one of the best cover corners of his generation. In her 911 call, his wife even noted how out-of-character his outburst was, and referred to him as a “good guy.”

The media’s lack of inquisitiveness is not merely confined to football, of course. When the former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen alleged in a GQ magazine article this month that his former coach, Phil Jackson, was racist, he was excoriated by on-air media personalities, both black and white.

Stephen A. Smith, ESPN’s most visible pundit, went so far as to suggest, stunningly, that Pippen was smoking too much weed. “I think this is one of the stupidest, most idiotic things he’s ever said or done,” Smith said.

Thing of it is, a simple Internet inquiry would’ve uncovered an abundance of anecdotal evidence that strongly suggests that Jackson has indeed, on multiple occasions, used racially charged language, or expressed conservative viewpoints that many might consider bigoted. 

In 2010, he publicly endorsed a bill pending in the Arizona legislature that was at the time the nation’s strictest and broadest crackdown on immigration. Speaking of protesters that included the Phoenix Suns and their star point guard Steve Nash, he told the Los Angeles Times

“Am I crazy, or am I the only one that heard [Arizona lawmakers] say, ‘We just took the United States immigration law and adopted it to our state?’ ” Arizona lawmakers, he said, simply “gave it some teeth to be able to enforce it.” 

Responding to the NBA’s adoption of a dress code in 2005 for a league that is nearly three-quarters African American, he said: 

“The players have been dressing in prison garb the last five or six years. All the stuff that goes on, it’s like gangster, thuggery stuff. It’s time. It’s been time to do that.”

In his 1975 book Maverick, he wrote:

“White players are more often willing to run patterns and work collectively.”

And:

“Because of the predominance of blacks in pro basketball, the sport is rapidly disintegrating into a one-on-one sport.”

When Jackson described LeBron James’ agent, lawyer and marketing team as a “posse,” James took umbrage in a tweet. “If he was working with anyone who wasn’t African American, I don’t think he would’ve called them a posse.”

G.O.A.T. Photo credit. WikiCommons.

While insisting that Jackson wasn’t racist, one of his former players, Robert Horry, who is black, did recall a tense moment on the court. “We were in the huddle and Phil was like, ‘You need to know the sound of your master’s voice,'” Horry said on his podcast, Big Shot Bob Pod.”I looked at him, I was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, nah, we don’t do that. I’m from the South.'”

This unwillingness to ask questions is what has come to define today’s journalism. Rachel Maddow drones on-and-on about Russian interference in the 2016 elections, for which there is no evidence; Glenn Greenwald writes at length about Brazilian politics without interviewing blacks who live in the favelas of the country that kidnapped 10 times as many slaves from Africa than did the US, and CNN’s Brian Stelter proclaims that Israel has a right to self-defense, oblivious, apparently, to the fact that no such right is enshrined in international law that frowns on illegal occupations.

Nothing in America is as it should be, because the jobs go not to the best but to the dull and the mediocre, who have a vested interest in maintaining the fiction of American innocence, thereby enabling the exploitation to continue. 

Consequently, the news media is not in the business of journalism, but marketing a didactic, pat narrative which pathologizes Richard Sherman but not the NFL owners who profit from his sacrifice and suffering. 

The objective is to divide and conquer, as explained by perhaps the greatest journalist that the US ever produced, Malcolm X, who created the Nation of Islam’s newspaper, Muhammad Speaks

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

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JON JETER is a published book author and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist with more than 20 years of journalistic experience. He is a former Washington Post bureau chief and award-winning foreign correspondent on two continents, as well as a former radio and television producer for Chicago Public Media’s "THIS AMERICAN LIFE." Jeter is a Knight Fellowship recipient – Stanford University’s highest professional journalism award — as well as author of FLAT BROKE IN THE FREE MARKET (WW Norton, 2009) and co-author of A DAY LATE AND A DOLLAR SHORT (Wiley & Sons, 2010). Jon works with both non-profit and for profit brands, utilizing his vast knowledge and experience in web, radio, and television content and production to drive communications strategies and develop stories that highlight the important work of these organizations. He is based out of the San Francisco Bay Area.