I got caught up in the cultural rapture of the black football nerd king.
I got caught up in the cultural rapture of the black football nerd king. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

As the "little drink and sandwich man" for the card games of my grandmother and elegantly hypermasculine black uncles, I had a base of sports knowledge instilled in me at a young age. So the sentence "Russell Wilson was to the Seahawks what Fran Tarkenton was to the Minnesota Vikings of the 1970s; a game manager and scrambler so good at finding open wide receivers in broken plays the team created offensive schemes around it" comes too easily off my tongue for me to make that many statements about "sports ball." So does this one: "The Seahawks of the 2010s were the closest the NFL got to the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball teams led by Roberto Clemente, a group of fiercely proud, genuinely socially conscious athletes with genuine ties to their communities and the community they played for."

I stopped being a hardcore sports fan when I couldn't cosplay enough machismo to deal with Mike Tyson in the '90s, yet was drawn back in by the community-centered philanthropy Hawks players showed in Hilltop, South Seattle, and Renton. There was Bobby Wagner sending kids to colleges and Silicon Valley. Then it was Richard Sherman's Blanket Coverage supporting the same food banks that fed me when I was in second grade and went place to place with my mother. After that, it was Wilson himself giving so much of his time and millions of his dollars to the Seattle Children's Hospital. These weren't cynical photo ops. These were tangible investments that affected people's lives.

That care was the base of the credulousness so many people had toward sports America's anger toward them in their peak years. In 2013 and 2014, Adrian Peterson was arrested for brutally beating his children, Ray Rice was caught on camera brutally beating his wife, and Greg Hardy was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend. None of them got the volume of rage sports fans had toward Sherman for… having a boisterous, boastful postgame interview in front of a white woman.

The juxtapositions were infuriating. After a year where just talking about football culture made one want to take a shower, the person and team America was so bent on calling a thug was Sherman? And the Seahawks? This Brother? These Brothers? When the Seahawks put on one of the great team performances in NFL history (in the 43-8 shellacking of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 48), the triumph became as personal as those of the Pirates teams my uncles loved so much. That the team was led by someone who, with the exception of Barack Obama, did more to glamorize nerdy black men hit home with me.

Wilson could be goofy and dorky at a press conference. Beneath that, however, was a steel and intellect that killed dead the stereotype of blacks not being intellectually qualified enough to run a classic winning offense. Also beneath it was his charity work and devotion to Ciara and her children in the face of her ex-husband Future's mixtape, where he threatened the life of both. I consider myself a pretty solid misanthrope, but I got caught up in the symbol-laden cultural rapture of the black football nerd king and his band of modern soul brothers.

But history and reality have a way of bringing such romantic raptures down to earth. It first started with "the call." Carroll and Wilson deciding to throw it on the 1 not only cost the Seahawks a Superbowl, but it also inflamed the tensions in that locker room to the point where they stopped being a unified team. (I don't care what Wilson, Coach Pete Carroll, or contrarian sports bloggers say in hindsight, there haven't been five power-backs in the history of the game who I'd be able to trust to get a goddamn yard more than a prime Marshawn Lynch.)

Then there was the subject of the great Lynch himself breaking down. When he couldn't do it anymore (and no running back could come close to doing what he did), the focus on the Hawks' offense relied solely on Wilson's arm. The result has been a run of good to great seasons for the Hawks, but ones woefully built for playoff runs in cold-weather cities, where you need a running game and offensive line. The release of Max Unger (the only great blocker Wilson ever had) and Caroll's impulsive need to overrule his draft scouts slowly led the Hawks to be where they are now, a barely mediocre team that Wilson wanted out of.

The nail in the Seahawks' coffin—a team so many people who didn't love football loved so much—is getting hammered out as we speak. Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans is a tremendous quarterback. He is also a defendant in 22 civil lawsuits ranging from coercive behavior to sexual assault, many of which are going to a grand jury right now. Watson denies the allegations and has offered settlements and NDAs to victims. If indicted, no team will be interested in signing him. The Seahawks have shown tremendous interest in signing him if he's not.

And this is the "best-case scenario" (groan) for Seahawks fans? That the team transitions from a Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year winner to somebody who "at best" (groan) will have to sign several non-disclosure agreements, admitting some culpability to claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault? That scenario will be overwhelming. The wave of sports bloggers, fans, and podcasters who pine for this, who care more about getting their fun Sunday game than the idea that it could be helmed by a fucking monster, are examples of sports fans at their absolute worst. As much as I am wary of performative sneering, I'd despise a Watson-led Hawks team as I'd loved Wilson's ones. Even if they won the Superbowl, they wouldn't get a minute of my viewing attention. Even I don't care for sports ball that much.

Robert Lashley was a 2016 Artist Trust Fellow, Jack Straw Fellow, and Stranger Genius Award Nominee. In 2019, Entropy Magazine named his first collection, The Homeboy Songs, one of the 25 essential books to come out of the Seattle area. His most recent collection, The Green River Valley, was published in June 2021.