And as is so often the case on the field, Sherman came out on top.
For the past two seasons, Sherman's supreme confidence has helped the Seahawks defense. Now, the cornerback's belief in himself and in his innocence helped him restore some of his reputation, and will help the Seahawks in the 2012 playoffs.
When word first leaked out a month ago that Sherman and Brandon Browner were both facing four-game suspensions for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing substances, Sherman almost immediately declared his innocence and said the truth will come out. He never backed down.
And on Thursday, Sherman did what few believed he could, winning his appeal against a league that in disciplinary matters is frequently likened to judge, jury and executioner.
In the eyes of many people, Sherman was fighting a hopeless battle. He should have, some suggested, take his medicine earlier so he could return for the playoffs. He was, some said, being selfish by dragging this out even if it meant the Seahawks would possibly go into the playoffs without one of their best players.
"Yeah, a lot of people said that," a jubilant Sherman said Thursday. "People said, 'Your chances are slim to none.' I told them, 'My chances have always been slim to none, and I've always found a way to win those.' You don't make it this far without getting through some kind of adversity, and this is just another phase."
Of course Sherman fought. That's the kind of person he always has been, and who he still is, even as more and more people recognize him as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. And of course Sherman won.
Maybe once and for all we should agree on something -- you're a fool if you doubt Richard Sherman. You don't have to like him; there are plenty of opposing fans and in all likelihood opposing receivers who can't stand his brashness, but at this point it seems futile to doubt Sherman. On the field Sherman can talk trash to Tom Brady, then back it up, and off the field, he can refuse to believe the system can't be beaten, then beat it.
Just as he did when he became the second person to from Compton's Dominguez High to go to Stanford, and just as he went from college receiver to Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback (and I don't care what happened in this year's voting, Sherman is one of the best corners in the league), Sherman refused to believe that the best possible outcome wasn't possible. He never waivered in his belief even as he faced the possibility of losing games and money and damaging his reputation.
Sherman's refusal to accept punishment, his decision to fight until he could fight no longer, is not just big for him, or even the Seahawks hopes in the playoffs. It also showed the NFL and its players that, despite the way most players feel about Roger Goodell when it comes to discipline, justice can be served.
"From a team standpoint, it's huge, we need him," said fullback Michael Robinson, who is also the team's union representative. "I can't think of another corner playing at a higher level right now. And from a player standpoint, it was good to see a player win an appeal. It shows the league's justice system can work in our favor."
Of course, as good as this outcome was for Sherman and the Seahawks, it wasn't the perfect one. If the system had worked the way it's supposed to, Sherman's name would have never leaked out, he would have had his appeal heard behind the scenes and after he won, his name would have never been tied to performance enhancing drugs. But now, because somebody somewhere down the line revealed confidential material to an ESPN reporter, Sherman will be viewed by some as a player who beat the system on a technicality.
Yet with so much at stake, the standards to suspend a player should be extremely high, and the written decision on Sherman's appeal makes it clear that errors were made during his testing -- whether or not Sherman took any banned substance, which again, he adamantly denies doing. It's entirely possible that a lot more players than we know have won appeals, but that their names were never linked to PEDs because the results of their tests weren't leaked.
"Oh, that's going to be dealt with also," Sherman said when asked about the story getting out. "... I don't know (how). It will get dealt with."
But even if some people will forever doubt the authenticity of Sherman's success, he isn't going to let that get to him. He is, after all, the same guy who has played two of the best games of his career since this whole ordeal began, turning in dominant performances against Arizona and San Francisco. So having a few more people doubt him will only fuel Sherman's fire.
"I like pressure," he said. "I play better with more pressure. It adds that extra element to it, and I play better when it comes down to it."
And hey, if all else fails, if he finally wins over all of his doubters, Sherman always will be able to find motivation in the final weekend of April, 2011.
"I'm still a fifth-round pick last I checked," he said. "That will never go away."
That will never go away, nor will the sizeable chip on Sherman's shoulder.
What is gone, however, is the concern in the Seahawks locker room that they'll have to go into the playoffs without Sherman. The odds were against him, but Sherman never doubted himself. In the end, maybe we shouldn't be that surprise he came out on top.
"Justice was finally served," Sherman said. "And I appreciate the league for allowing justice to be served and allowing me to continue to play."
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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