January 19, 2014, Fox Sports:
Erin Andrews, a very white woman pointing a microphone at Richard Sherman, a very black man: "Richard—let me ask you—the final play, take me through it."
Richard Sherman: "Well, I'm the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you gonna get! Don't you ever talk about me!"
Andrews: "Who was talking about you?"
Sherman: "Crabtree! Don't you open your mouth about the best! Or Imma shut it for you real quick! L-O-B!"
Andrews: "All right, before... And Joe, back over to you."
With that interaction, Seattle stole the nation's microphone and, to this day, has refused to return it to its proper owners—NYC, DC, LA. Sherman's NFC championship postgame barks/remarks threw the whole nation into a terrible fit. Sports commentators were united in their condemnation of his street talk: Once a thug, always a thug; this is yet again a sign of the decline of professional sports; the NFL has lost control of its rude players.
The noise around Sherman's postgame interview was so loud and persistent (he was called a thug 625 times the day after the game, according to iQ Media) that it almost buried Justin Bieber's spectacular meltdown. And if Bieber did appear on a Facebook feed, it was either as one of the two "bad boys of Canada" (the other being the merry mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford) or as a weapon to defend Sherman from what was perceived as a relentlessly racist media. This weapon was forged and distributed by the comedian Jon Stewart, who on his show made the point: "The thugs aren't the [white] dudes [like Bieber and Ford] accused of actual violent crimes. It's the Stanford-educated cornerback who talked loud after the game. I can't imagine why—I assume it's due to some deep systemic bias... against Seattle."
Then just as Seattle was preparing to return to its normal quiet place out here on the perimeter, a controversy shook the January 26 Grammy Awards. Kendrick Lamar, a black rapper who, like Richard Sherman, is from one of the most famous hoods in hiphop, Compton, lost the best rap album award to Macklemore, a white rapper from a rich city that does not have anything like a real and established hood. Macklemore—who, by the way, began his career in 2005 with a track, "White Privilege," that expressed his awareness of the social and financial benefits of being white and male in America—accepted the award, said his thanks, stepped down, and promptly began what can only be described as an "apology tour." "You got robbed," Macklemore wrote in a text to Lamar. "I wanted you to win. You should have. It's weird and sucks that I robbed you." The internet exploded. Many appreciated Macklemore's apology and honesty, many more thought the apology was worthless and should have been expressed on the stage when he received the damn award, and many, many more thought it was just not hiphop (or American) to go around apologizing for your success.
The larger ongoing conversation about white pop artists appropriating black music and making loads of money off it—a very old and justified gripe indeed—suddenly had Evergreen State College–educated Macklemore at the red-hot center of it. "From Richard Sherman to Macklemore," posted Ann Powers, the pop critic for NPR, on Facebook, "I NEVER thought I would say, if you want to understand race and pop culture in America 2014, look to Seattle."
Then, on January 28, hardcore socialist and Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant appeared on the web and presented a radical response to President Obama's politics-as-usual State of the Union address. Were we now in the Soviet Union? The nerve of this Indian-born commie. "Actual Socialist Gives Rebuttal to Obama's State of the Union Address," read a headline on Huffington Post. The same day, Sawant was generating comments on Reddit for doing what has to be the most un-American of all things: saying no to a shitload of money. Crooksandliars.com, linking to a story on Slog, wrote: "Seattle City Councillor Kshama Sawant will take $40,000 after taxes of her $117,000 salary and put the remaining money into a 'Solidarity Fund' to support her causes."
That same day, an unbelievably busy day for Seattle, the New York Times reported that Marshawn Lynch, a running back for the Seattle Seahawks, would be fined $50,000 by the NFL for not talking enough to the media. "At media day on Tuesday," they reported, "he arrived wearing gold-rimmed sunglasses and a hood pulled tightly over his head, and he spoke with reporters for a little more than six minutes." The whole tone of this and other reports on the fine made it clear to all that you are as much a thug as Sherman if you decide to keep your mouth shut. Thugs are either loud and obnoxious or silent and secretive.
And then two days later, on January 30, Seattle resident Amanda Knox suddenly was in the headlines again, now as a fugitive from Italy's criminal justice system. She was convicted of a murder in 2009, that conviction was overturned in 2011, and then last week that overturned conviction was overturned. The following day, a defiant Knox appeared on Good Morning America in a nice new haircut, saying, "They'll have to pull me back kicking and screaming." Those words were still on the nation's mind as it watched, on February 2, the Broncos receiving a proper thrashing from a team that almost the whole of the country disliked and wanted to see lose—ours. There was no ambiguity in the Super Bowl; Seattle simply and totally dominated the game. In overdoing the whole winning thing, they made a Denver boy cry all over Twitter and Facebook.
We are still in the strange glow of this over-victory, and we are still holding the microphone, with our thuggy athletes, our apologetic rapper, our unapologetic socialist, our fugitive. But what does it all mean? Is there something to it, something deeper? Or is this just a concentrated series of accidents that has no meaning? Or is this that moment that some scientists call a "phase transition"? Meaning, has Seattle reached a critical point where the old city is going through a rapid transformation into something new and unknown, and all of this media excitement is a symptom of that transition? Possibly—but there is something that connects all of these news-commanding personalities to the victory last Sunday: They are all a bit freakish, all a bit not with the American program, all a bit out there. (You can add to this mix of oddities our new gay mayor and the clouds of weed smoke everywhere.)
The author who gave the idea for the microphone theme of this piece, David Shields, recently said to me: "People ask me what it's like to live in Seattle, and I find myself quoting Spalding Gray, 'I wanted to live on an island off the coast of America.'" I like the metaphor of the island because, as those who study Darwinian evolution know, animals that are left in isolation, outside of the influence of the main population, evolve into strange and unusual animals.