By John Boyle
Here we go again.
I was hesitant to write about the latest Richard Sherman “news” on Thursday for two reasons. First off, I wasn’t home for much of the day, then I was at KeyArena covering the Pac-12 women’s hoops tourney, but secondly, and more importantly, I was naïvely hoping Sherman’s latest feud, this one with ESPN’s resident button-pusher Skip Bayless, 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 as hoping we could avoid blowing this story 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 last 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 clicking on this, a brief rundown: Sherman was on First Take, and it was clear he went on the show determined to get his message out against Bayless, who has been critical of Sherman in the past because of the cornerback 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.” If you want a better breakdown of the whole thing, Mike Sando has the transcript on the ESPN NFC West Blog.
And, predictably, Sherman vs. Bayless became a big story over the last two days, so I suppose I’ll say a few words before moving on.
Every time Sherman puts himself in these situations, 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.
It’s true 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, but 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, Sherman really is motivated by that. And if those sleights, 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?
Seattle’s other starting corner Brandon Browner is about as different as possible when it comes to on-field persona, but he sees the benefit of Sherman’s trash talking.
“He frustrates guys in that way,” 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 if 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 becomes one of the very best at 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?