Richard Sherman is one of the most intelligent and eloquent athletes in professional sports today. He has smart things to say about the NCAA and poverty and issues of police brutality ― not to mention football.
Which is what makes it so odd that he continues to stand by his use of the phrase “All Lives Matter.” In an interview with ESPN’s The Undefeated published Tuesday, the Seattle Seahawks cornerback spouted and then defended his continued use of the three highly politicized words.
“I stand by what I said: that All Lives Matter and that we are human beings [first and foremost],” the former Stanford Cardinal said.
Sherman was referencing comments he made last year, when he first uttered the phrase during a press conference. “I think a person saying that we should celebrate our humanity and that all lives matter, if that turns off an advertiser or turns off a company, then more power to you,” he said in September.
The thing is, Sherman repeatedly uttering the phrase “All Lives Matter” would be fine in a vacuum. After all, all lives do matter. But we don’t live in a vacuum. We live in the U.S. in 2016 ― a world in which black men and women are systematically mistreated by the police and the phrase “All Lives Matter” is put forth as a way to belittle attempts to correct that mistreatment.
“I think everybody understands all lives matter,” President Barack Obama said last October. But the issue with the phrase, he explained, lies in the context from which it was born. “The notion [behind “All Lives Matter”] was somehow [that] saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ was reverse racism, or [that it was] suggesting other people’s lives didn’t matter or police officers’ lives didn’t matter.” That was never the intent of a movement born out of a desire to help black people, not hurt anyone else. And that is exactly what “All Lives Matter” crowd misunderstands: For all lives to truly matter, black lives need to matter more.
Sherman’s heart seems to always be in the right place. He grew up in Compton, California. He knows what it’s like to be poor and black in America, and he wants to help those who grew up like him, not hurt them. He cares. So why, exactly, has Sherman aligned himself with the conservatives who created the phrase in direct opposition to the “Black Lives Matter” movement, instead of with those who simply want black lives to matter as much as everyone else’s, as he does?
“We’re targeting the brutal system of policing, not individual police ... This is a vision of love. Black Lives Matter movement's official stance
For two reasons. First, he is using the phrase “All Lives Matter” outside of its present-day context, which is to say, he is using it to say all people deserve equal rights and dignity ― the central argument behind the “Black Lives Matter” movement. And secondly, Sherman also seems to believe many members of the “Black Lives Matter” movement want police officers dead. “Some of them [’Black Lives Matter’ supporters] are peaceful and understandable and some of them are very radical and hard to support,” Sherman said. “Any time you see people who are saying, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ and then saying it’s time to kill police, then it is difficult to stand behind that logic. They are generalizing police just like they are asking police not to generalize us. It is very hypocritical.”
But to discuss the “Black Lives Matter” movement as if it is split in two between the peaceful and the violent is to create a false equivalency. It gives the microphone to a deranged man in Dallas who killed five cops on July 7, instead of to the peaceful protesters who walked among the cops beforehand. It hands the megaphone to a disturbed man who shot and killed three officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on July 17, not to the “Black Lives Matter” supporters sharing the movement’s official message.
Sherman siding with “All Lives Matter” also ignores the lengths to which the “Black Lives Matter” movement has gone to prove the hearts of its followers are in the right place. Last September, the Black Lives Matter movement posted a message on Facebook attempting to unambiguously refute the idea that it was a pro-violence movement. “We’re targeting the brutal system of policing, not individual police,” the statement read in part. “The Black Lives Matter Network is a love group. We seek a world in which ALL black lives matter, and racial hierarchy no longer organizes our lives or yours. This is a vision of love.”
Unfortunately, the actions of a few men with guns have convince many people ― Sherman included ― that the self-professed “love group” is not always that. This is the difficulty of pushing forward as a minority-focused political movement in the U.S. today. As my colleague Lilly Workneh wrote earlier this month:
Public mass shootings in this country are overwhelmingly committed by white men, and yet, have you ever heard someone blame the entire white race for one white person’s crimes?
Sherman told The Undefeated that he believes “race was created.” True, but now that it exists, it’s important to consider the necessary context in which it does: And, in the United States of America, in 2016, the necessary context is that when someone says “All Lives Matter,” they really aren’t saying all lives matter anymore. In reality, they’re implying something much more hateful than that.