Why do we love Shannon Sharpe so much?

OPINION: Unc had a key moment that made him sympathetic and that changed his career

SiriusXM At Super Bowl LVII - Feb. 9
Shannon Sharpe attends SiriusXM At Super Bowl LVII on February 09, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I think the culture is obsessed with Unc. Shannon Sharpe is charismatic and beloved and someone almost everyone would want to have at their backyard barbeque. I gained respect for him back when he was playing for the Denver Broncos. He was a great player and an amazing trash-talker. A lot of people loved Sharpe as a player and thought that he could become a good broadcaster, but I think I know the exact moment when he turned into a man who the culture really loves.

The latest cultural headline for Sharpe arrived over the weekend. Sharpe recently released a new cognac and was on a tour of liquor stores to promote it. At the last stop, he ambled out of his chauffeured SUV wearing a dark green two-piece athleisure suit that was perhaps a bit too tight. He had accessorized it with a bright orange man purse thing that looked, to many, a bit too girly. As he got out of the SUV, his hips and his knees shifted, for a moment, in a way that many read a bit too femme for a man. The internet had a field day making fun of him — I compiled some of the funniest ones here. Were people being fair? No. Were people being homophobic? Yes. But was it unintentionally funny? For sure.

The joke was at Sharpe’s expense but there was a loving undertone to it all. It was definitely in the spirit of “We love Unc.” The moment reminded me of how quick some of us are to say a man has lost his manhood because of a lisp that’s a bit too soft or a wrist that’s a bit too limp or a hip that juts out a bit too much. Sometimes manhood is posited as something that can be easily lost like one might mistakenly lose their keys, which is bizarre and homophobic. 

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I couldn’t help but see the contrast between that moment and the wild incident from just over a year ago when Sharpe was at a game between the L.A. Lakers and the Memphis Grizzlies and he got into a shouting and pushing and chest-beating situation where it was Sharpe versus several Grizzlies and Ja Morant’s father. And the thing is, it seemed like Sharpe was so strong and masculine that he was perfectly prepared to handle combat with the whole Grizzlies team. In that moment, he seemed like he was more of a man than anyone in the building, and it felt like the Grizzlies needed security to protect all of them from Unc. 

So one day the NBA needs the National Guard to keep them safe from Sharpe, but let him hop out of one truck in a silly way and y’all are out here calling him Auntie Shay Shay. The culture is a mess. 

Earlier this year Sharpe had the most viral moment of his post-NFL career when Katt Williams came on his massive podcast “Club Shay Shay” and unloaded on almost every comedian in the game. After that “Club Shay Shay” was a household name. Everyone had at least heard of it. Sharpe, on his show, created an environment that let people like Williams feel comfortable enough to say what they want while also making his show big enough that it meant something to go on there. Williams knew a lot of the culture would hear him roar and once Sharpe gave him the floor, Williams was able to create one of the wildest podcast episodes ever heard. But there was a moment before that that led to all of the love that Sharpe has gotten in his broadcasting career.

A big part of why Sharpe is now at this zenith in his post-NFL career is because of what he went through with Skip Bayless. It’s almost like we watched him get beat up by a toxic husband and gained a new respect for him.

On “Undisputed,” we all saw Sharpe fighting to be the best broadcaster he could be and working hard at the craft while Bayless was endlessly rude to him. We all felt his pain when Sharpe finally broke down on the air while arguing about Bayless’ thoughtless tweet about a player who almost died on the field. So many of us have endured the obnoxious, entitled white man in the workplace who drove us crazy, and so we saw Bayless as the typical office villain we’re forced to work with. We saw Sharpe doing what we would hope to do in that situation.

Sharpe went through it right in front of millions of eyes, getting trolled and disrespected by Bayless, yet he maintained his dignity. He was vulnerable and emotional in the face of a bully and then he walked away from the job on his own terms, crying as he said goodbye to the “Undisputed” crew and audience. That made him sympathetic and damn near heroic. That was when he became our beloved Unc.

That moment changed everything for Sharpe’s post-NFL career. Now we love him no matter what he does. It’s Unc’s world. We’re just living in it.  

Touré, theGrio.com

Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of Masters of the Game on theGrioTV. He is also the host and creator of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and the animated show “Star Stories with Toure” which you can find at TheGrio.com/starstories. He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.

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