We All Need to Do Better
Welcome to Tuesdays with Richard on Thursdays, a weekly multimedia series featuring Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. Throughout the 2016 season, Richard will provide an intimate glance at his life behind-the-scenes and on the field. This week, Richard discusses fatherhood and the impact we can and should have on today’s youth.
I remember the first time I went to work with my mom for Take Your Child to Work Day. I was seven years old, and my mom worked with mentally and physically disabled kids for California Children’s Services.
Growing up, my mom always taught me to treat people with respect and to not judge people, especially for things that are beyond their control, like their physical limitations or the color of their skin. It’s a simple concept — one I hope all parents teach their children. But when you’re a kid, you don’t know any better, so it’s hard to understand what it really means unless you see it in action.
Walking into the CCS facility with my mom that day was a little surreal. As a kid I had seen some crazy stuff on the streets of my neighborhood in Compton, but never anything like I saw that day. It was a whole different world.
I saw kids with cerebral palsy who were confined to wheelchairs. I saw kids with Down syndrome. I saw kids with various terminal illnesses.
That sounds terrible, right?
But that’s the thing. Despite all that — so many kids fighting different disabilities and diseases — there was this … hope in the building. This energy.
You want to truly experience positive energy? Spend an afternoon with somebody who has a terminal illness — somebody who considers every day a gift because the next day isn’t guaranteed. I think there’s a lot to be learned from that philosophy, and I was instantly drawn to it.
After that first trip, I started going to work with my mom more often, sometimes as frequently as every day for up to one or two weeks. Over time, I watched a kid with cerebral palsy increase his ability to use his hands. I saw a kid who had difficulty speaking learn to pronounce words and formulate sentences.
I didn’t see those kids for their limitations. I saw them as people. I saw them grow. And I saw the patience it took on their part, as well as on the part of their parents and their therapists, to make even the smallest improvements — which were huge victories for them.
It gave me a new perspective on the world and how amazing people can be. I saw firsthand all the things my mom had always told me about respecting other people, without judgment.
And it resonated because I watched her do it. I watched her live it.
Another thing I learned from going to work with my mom, whether I knew it at the time or not, was that the most influential people in kids’ lives are their parents. And for me, it wasn’t just my mom. My dad taught me what it meant to have a great work ethic.
And like with my mom, I really learned it by watching him.
He was a garbage truck driver for the city of Los Angeles. He woke up every morning at 3:45, rain or shine. He even worked holidays to rack up overtime. I saw his work ethic firsthand.
The way my parents lived and the way they viewed the world rubbed off on me.
These are the things that I think about now that I’m a father myself. If I wake up on a Monday morning and I’m feeling sore and tired — like I just don’t have it in me that day — I think about my kids and the example I want to set for them.
And then I get my ass up and I go to work.
I understand that my kids are always going to be watching me, looking to me for guidance and as an example, and I use that as motivation.
Growing up in Compton, I needed parents like mine. There are so many external factors pulling at kids, tugging them in different directions, and it starts early. When I was in elementary school, I saw older kids — who were skipping classes or not going to school at all — in the street gangbanging, getting into fights, robbing people. I saw guns, violence and drugs.
I could have easily fallen into that lifestyle. It was right there in front of me, every day, begging me to get swept up into it.
But I had strong convictions — like my parents — and my mom and dad had always steered me away from that kind of life just like they had my brother before me. And I think that helped me as well because what young boy doesn’t want to be like his older brother?
I think we fail to realize at times how easily influenced our children are.
Just recently, my fiancée’s niece and nephew came over to our house, and they were telling us about a couple of their friends, fellow elementary school students. One of their friends is Native American and the other is Muslim. This was around last week’s election, when Donald Trump became president-elect, and these kids were worried about being deported.
Kids — in second or third grade — worried about being deported.
I think that was the moment when I realized just how impactful both this presidency and Trump’s rhetoric will be for our future generation. It’s unfortunate that we live in a time when our president-elect is the opposite of an example for our children. He will be one of those external factors that parents will have to combat — an example of somebody we don’t want our kids to talk like or emulate.
But that’s where we come in, as parents. Now, we have to work even harder and do better to set an example, to offset the dangerous and ignorant things they might see or hear on TV.
The way that our president-elect spoke about Muslim and Hispanic people, especially in terms of immigration, was appalling. And at some point, I’ll have to explain to my son and daughter that that’s not how you talk about people — that everybody is equal and everybody has a place in our society, regardless of their religion, race, ethnicity or sexuality. No matter what, you treat people with respect.
And I’ll do it by showing them, the same way my mom showed me when she took me to work that day.
And if my kids say to me, “But daddy, he’s the President!” I’ll simply tell them that you have to blaze your own path and do what you believe is right, even in the face of others who are doing wrong. I’ll also tell them that, as you grow older and develop your own values and set of beliefs, you are going to have choices to make. You shouldn’t just blindly follow any one individual. You should look at the world and take different things from different people to formulate your own opinions. You have to educate yourself in your own way and control your own destiny, especially as it pertains to the kind of person you want to be.
It’s my job as a father to set the foundation for that growth.
I took the best parts of my mom, the best parts of my dad, the best parts of my brother, the best parts of Compton and the best parts of the other people in this world that I chose to admire, and I blazed my own path. I was fortunate enough to have most of my positive influences in my own home — a luxury I know a lot of kids don’t have. That is one of the reasons why I’ve been so passionate about working with kids in our communities.
Kids have always been my focus because that’s where I think I can have the biggest impact. There’s such an innocence in kids. Their minds are still open to change and new ideas.
Many adults are stuck in their ways. If a person is racist, you can try your best to bring them back to reality and show them what’s right. But odds are, they’re not going to change.
But kids, as impressionable as they are, have to go to school every day and deal with their classmates. So if their classmates are open and understanding — and they’re colorblind and they treat everybody equally and with respect — then they’ll pass that on. The ripple effect is real, but it works both ways. Negativity can also be a draw. But to push out the hate you have to teach our youth to value empathy and acceptance and inclusion. That’s how you’ll finally get rid of the racism and the ignorance in this world. You do it through our kids.
It’s unfortunate that things in our society take longer to change than most people would like, but that’s the reality in which we live. If it was easy, it would have been done a long time ago. So we need to keep working at it.
I have seen the protests condemning the president-elect. I see people posting on social media and I see people afraid for where our society might be headed. I see a lot of talk — which is good. It raises awareness and it’s our right as American citizens to voice our opinions.
But let’s not forget that actions always speak louder than words.
I see a lot of athletes who get called out for not being more outspoken about social issues. But you know what? How do you know that guy isn’t out in the community working with kids to educate the next generation on how we should treat each other? Isn’t that more important than making a statement at a press conference?
I’m outspoken. That’s who I am. But not everybody is like that. When it comes to helping out in the community, a lot of guys purposely do it outside the spotlight, because it’s not about the attention or the press. It’s about having the biggest impact. And more often than not, that’s done quietly, behind the scenes, in our communities, with our kids.
As athletes, our play on the field will be remembered in many respects. But the impact we have on future generations will be felt long after everything we’ve done on the field has been forgotten. I consider this in how I raise my own kids and in how I work with other children in our community. And if we want to get to where we know we should be as a society, I challenge everybody else to do the same.
The reality is, whether you support the president-elect or not, we all need to do better, myself included. And if we do that, the future will be pretty bright.