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Losing labels: What do athletes really look like?

At this point, the name Richard Sherman should be familiar to those who at least halfway pay attention to sports.

The Seattle Seahawks cornerback and Compton, Calif. native gave a colorful and off-putting post-game interview with Erin Andrews by calling out Michael Crabtree, stirring up a social media storm.

I’ve never really followed Sherman, but I too participated in the chatter, completely disappointed with the way the situation was handled by the players and Andrews for apparently not watching the same game the rest of us were.

A few days later, Sherman was the centerpiece of a well-timed Beats by Dr. Dre advertisement where he’s surrounded by a multitude of reporters in the locker room, bamboozled with question after question.

At one point, he has to tell a reporter that “not everyone from Compton is a gang member.”

But another reporter in the spot takes it to the next level and asks Sherman, “What do you think of your reputation as a thug?”

Not once does he lose his composure. He simply places his headphones on and continues gathering his gear at his locker.

This is a Stanford graduate with his own foundation aptly called Blanket Coverage to provide children with school supplies and clothes, complete with a cool video on his personal website showing Sherman’s surprise Santa visits delivering some pretty sweet Nike gear to some appreciative families.

In fact, Sherman himself wrote in a column for Sports Illustrated to “judge a man by what he does off the field, what he does for his community, what he does for his family.”

Not how I would define thug.

How are we as a public really perceiving athletes? What makes a thug? If it’s dreadlocks and tattoos then, I have some sad news, the front porch of Bongo Java should probably be the thug capital of the universe.

If we’re typecasting people on where they’re from like Sherman was judged for by being from Compton, then I should probably be a hillbilly without running water and only two teeth, one for each name I go by.

Place isn’t the only factor to lead the uninformed public astray; image can also be misleading.

Clean-cut Tiger Woods turned out to not be the pristine golfer in his polos and khakis.

Former Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire broke my heart by admitting to steroid use. Baseball was supposed to be America’s past time, full of happy things like Cracker Jacks and cheesy stadium chants.

I’m not going to create a handy BuzzFeed list for you to reference, but I think you get the point. People have royally screwed up regardless of what city they are from or what pair of pants they put on. (After all, we all put them on the same way–one leg at a time.)

We as a society are extremely quick to judge. We assume appearance has a direct correlation with behavior. A sound byte or video clip creates an indelible image that we refuse to change in an age where information is so readily available within seconds. We tweet before looking at a player’s bio when in actuality both tasks probably take the same amount of time.

I don’t even know whether to point a finger at social media for making it so easy to hate on other human beings or at people themselves for being too lazy to check the facts before going on their own rants.

Either way, stereotypes in the field of athletic competition are abundant and have nothing to do with the execution of the game.

Starting this Super Bowl, let’s enjoy the game in all its ups and downs. If a player gives a lively post-game interview, let’s not be shocked that he or she is excited.

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