By Michael Lev The Orange County Register
It’s Wednesday, and Richard Sherman is fighting the good fight. The Seattle Seahawks cornerback is talking to kids at Los Angeles’ Verbum Dei High, the second of three stops on a day-long, inner-city journey.
Sherman is telling his story as part of the S.W.A.G. program. It’s short for Student With A Goal, and its mission is to “inspire academic excellence.”
Sherman is an ideal role model. He achieved a 4.2 GPA at Dominguez High of Compton, aced the SAT and attended Stanford, where he earned a degree in — surprise, surprise — communications.
Sherman’s message to the students at Verbum Dei, itself a story of academic excellence, is as clear as the afternoon sky: “There’s nothing that can stop you but you.”
Remember those words.
It’s Thursday — the very next day — and Sherman, for some reason, is verbally sparring with Skip Bayless on ESPN’s obnoxious debate show, “First Take.” This is what Jim Harbaugh would refer to as “low-hanging fruit.”
The awkwardness begins with “First Take” co-host Stephen A. Smith asking Sherman how good he really is. Sherman is an All-Pro smack talker and corner. He turns the entire conversation into an attack on Bayless, who’s usually the instigator in these exchanges. Sherman’s barbs include:
“Whenever you address me, address me as ‘All-Pro Stanford graduate.’”
“I’m one of the best 22 players in the NFL. I don’t think you’re the best 22 anything. In sports, in media, in anything.”
“In my 24 years of life, I’m better at life than you.”
What was supposed to be a discussion about pro football turned into a dialogue from pro wrestling, with Sherman switching from hero to villain in mid-interview. Was it all just an act — part of Sherman’s cocky, trash-talking football persona? A bad choice by a still-maturing young man (he turns 25 March 30) who has rocketed to fame and glory? All of the above?
“He wants to say what he wants to say. There’s a cost in that, because not everybody agrees with people talking like that,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said a couple of weeks later. “There’s times when it feels uncomfortable. He’s working at understanding how to express himself.
“But that was firm. That was strong. Not very many people would ever talk to a person in the media like that. That’s what he felt needed to be said, so he did. It is Richard being Richard.”
It’s the following Tuesday, and you’re Googling Richard Sherman. Besides the usual profile pages (Wikipedia, NFL.com, ESPN.com, etc.), the items that pop up most frequently involve (A) Sherman’s spat with Bayless and (B) Sherman’s recent Twitter war with Darrelle Revis.
Sherman contended that he, not Revis, is the best cornerback in the NFL. Today’s times being what they are, the argument became talk-show and blogosphere fodder.
Back at Verbum Dei, before he talks to the kids, Sherman is asked if it bothers him that a petty Twitter dispute supersedes his charitable work on Google.
“I don’t really do it for notoriety,” he says. “People are going to think what they’re going to think.”
Sherman understands that many of us — heck, most of us — form opinions about people we don’t really know based on Google searches and TV sound bites. As a youth in South Central, Sherman’s world felt so small that trips to Lakewood Mall with his family were akin to “going out of state.” What little he knew of the rest of the world came from television.
“A lot of people judge and characterize you directly off of what they see on TV, which is kind of unfair, especially playing football,” Sherman says. “You can’t be a nice football player.”
If Sherman believes the medium of television distorts the truth, it makes his behavior on “First Take” all the more puzzling. Wasn’t he just validating the impression people had of him as a braggart who got in Tom Brady’s face after the Seahawks beat the Patriots in October and irked the Redskins’ Trent Williams to the point that he slapped Sherman after their wild-card game?
If it bothers him, as he said during lunch at Verbum Dei, that outsiders stereotype his old neighborhood and pigeonhole his personality, why give them more ammo?
It’s the day this story’s due, and you’re trying to figure out Richard Sherman. Does he deserve to be toasted for his accomplishments and philanthropy? Or roasted for behavior unbecoming of a professional?
Perhaps the good guy-bad guy debate is too narrow, too simple, too obvious. We’re all imperfect, right?
Perhaps Sherman needs to act a certain way to be the best person and player he can be. He struggled to fit in at first at Stanford, and the mid-college transition from receiver to corner — the position Carroll, wanted him to play at USC — was rough. How did Sherman overcome that?
“I kind of replaced that lack of confidence with overconfidence,” he says.
Or as Seahawks general manager John Schneider recently put it: “It’s what makes him who he is. It’s one of the things that made us fall in love with him, and it gives him the confidence to play the way he plays. He feels that he’s the best cornerback in the league, and God bless him.”
It’s impossible to quantify, but it’s more fact than opinion. If you don’t believe us, just ask Sherman. He’s a lot of things, but shy isn’t one of them.