By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — When Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman went on ESPN Thursday and took on Skip Bayless, the network’s most notorious instigator, maybe you thought it was funny, or maybe you thought Sherman made himself look bad.
My reaction? Here we go again.
I was hesitant to write about the latest Sherman “news” partly because I had other work obligations that day, but mostly because I was naively hoping Sherman’s latest feud, this one with Bayless, ESPN’s resident button-pusher, might not turn into a huge story.
It’s not that I’m one of the people who thinks Sherman needs to quiet down, I’ve written as much in the past, but rather that I was hoping this story wouldn’t blow up, because that’s exactly what Bayless, ESPN and that train-wreck of a show known as First Take are hoping for when they constantly stir the pot in the name of ratings.
And on top of that, no matter what you think of Sherman’s brash personality, these “feuds” are happening so regularly, I feel like we’re all getting Sherman-vs.-whoever fatigue.
In the past five months alone, we’ve had Sherman vs. Tom Brady, Sherman vs. Calvin Johnson, Sherman vs. Trent Williams, Sherman vs. Roddy White, Sherman vs. Darrelle Revis, and now Sherman vs. ESPN’s troll.
If you’ve been away from the internet/TV/radio until today, here’s a brief rundown: Sherman appeared on First Take on Thursday, and it was clear he went on the show determined to get his message out against Bayless, who has been critical of Sherman for comparing himself to Revis, widely considered the game’s best corner in recent years. Sherman’s rant included the rather funny phrase, “I’m better at life than you.”
Sherman also requested that Bayless address him as “All-Pro, Stanford graduate,” and said, “I’m intelligent enough and capable enough to understand that you are an ignorant, pompous, egotistical cretin, and that’s really what it comes down to, and I’m going to crush you on here in front of everybody. … I’m tired of your ignorant pollution.”
And, predictably, Sherman vs. Bayless became a big story over few days, so let’s address it before moving on and forgetting that any of us had to spend this much time paying attention to First Take.
Every time Sherman finds himself trading barbs with a fellow athlete or member of the media, a lot of Seahawks fans are quick to defend him, while plenty of others say he should shut up and let his game do the talking. My opinion? It’s really not up to us how Sherman goes about his business.
The truth of the matter is that Sherman is much more than just the person we see talking trash on game day, or on Twitter, or on TV. He is a very intelligent young man, he gives his time and money to help people in Seattle and his home town of Compton, Calif.
But yes, he also likes to run his mouth.
I’m not going to pretend the brief locker room conversations that I and other media members have with Sherman mean we know all there is to know about him, or anything close to it. However, we do see a different side of him than these bouts of trash talking present. He’s a genuinely thoughtful, likeable guy, but he’s also somebody who truly does feed off of his doubters.
Bringing up the fact that he was a fifth-round pick at every opportunity isn’t some act for him. Sherman really is motivated by that. And if those slights, real or perceived, drive Sherman, if talking smack on the field makes him play better, or takes opposing receivers out of their game (we’re looking at you, Steve Smith) then why should he stop?
“He frustrates guys in that way,” cornerback Brandon Browner said last season. ” … You can see it, week in and week out. I tell him, ‘that’s when you’re at your best, when you’re talking noise out there. That’s when you’re on top of your game.’”
As far as any of us know, Sherman isn’t breaking the law, he isn’t being a jerk to his fans, he isn’t out getting drunk and making a fool of himself at clubs — he’s talking. OK, he’s talking a lot, but if anyone is being hurt by this, it’s Sherman, and he’s smart enough to know what he’s doing. So if his goal is to get attention by being a villain of sorts, why do any of us really care, since he’s playing at an All-Pro level?
The funny part about all of this is that he was actually doing the media rounds this week because he was in L.A. talking to kids about S.W.A.G. (Students With A Goal), an organization that promotes academic success. He went to schools, including his alma mater, Dominguez High School, and talked to students about the importance of doing well in school. He shared his message about going from Compton to Stanford, something he realized could be inspirational even when he chose Stanford over USC as a senior in high school.
“I wanted to make a statement to my city,” Sherman said on the day the Seahawks drafted him. “I’m from Compton, and it’s hard for people to understand that you can be an athlete and have high academic standards and achieve high academic things. So, I really wanted to make that known to people that you can go to Stanford from Compton.”
So is Sherman a role model or a trash talker? Well he’s both, and there’s really no reason for him to choose one or the other.
When Sherman is on a Twitter rant, or making news with outlandish TV interviews, you’ll hear people say, “He’s better than that.” No, he isn’t. He is that; it’s part of him. He doesn’t want to be “better than that,” because that Ali-esque persona is just one part of who Sherman is, as is the big-hearted part that gives back to this community at his home town.
It’s not an either-or with Sherman. It’s the whole package, take it or leave it. And as somebody whose job involves talking with athletes, I’ll gladly take it, and if you’re a Seahawks fan, you sure as hell should, too.
If you’re a parent, maybe you’d prefer your kid admire an athlete who carries himself more like Russell Wilson, and Wilson is certainly an admirable person and athlete. But if I someday have a child, and he or she grows up to become a Stanford graduate who quickly climbs to the top of his or her profession, who uses that success to give back to his or her community, and who yes, has a bit of a mouth, well, where can I sign up?
We’ll no doubt be having a similar conversation again soon, so get used to it. Sherman isn’t changing; he doesn’t want to, and really, who are we to say that he should?
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.