By John Boyle Herald Columnist
TACOMA — There was plenty to take away from Richard Sherman’s charity softball game Sunday.
For example, those who filled a sold-out Cheney Stadium were reminded that even world-class athletes can look silly swinging a baseball bat (Bobby Wagner, who swung and missed twice during a slowpitch home run derby), or trying to play left field (Doug Baldwin, who fortunately for Seahawks fans is much better at catching a football than a routine fly ball).
We also saw yet another example of the passion of the roughly 7,000 Seahawks fans who packed the stadium to make a ton of noise at a goofy yet entertaining game played by Seahawks players, as well as a few other celebrities such as Shawn Kemp and Larry Fitzgerald. We saw that Earl Thomas can fly around the bases or in center field just as gracefully as he does a football field, and we saw that former NFL replacement ref Lance Easley, who umpired the game, isn’t shy about playing up his Monday Night Football moment of infamy, especially if it’s for a good cause.
But perhaps most significantly, Sunday’s game, which, if you care, was won 23-22 by the Russell Wilson-coached squad, served as a reminder that there are two distinctly different sides to Sherman. To a lot of Seahawks fans outside of the Northwest, Sherman is a loudmouth cornerback who needs to stop talking smack. They see Sherman arguing with ESPN personalities, or engaging in numerous Twitter feuds, or trash-talking Tom Brady after a game, and wonder why he can’t let his game do the talking.
And whether Sherman should or shouldn’t stop talking — I’ve gone on record saying he shouldn’t — that brash, confident (cocky?) persona is hardly who he is. Yes, Sherman talks — a lot — but he’s also a guy respected enough by teammates that they flew from all over the country to participate in this game during what is their only long window of time to go home or on vacation. He’s a player who, having grown up around poverty in Compton, Calif., started a foundation called Blanket Coverage that provides clothing and school supplies to needy kids, and who also donated proceeds from the game to Helping A Hero, an organization that builds adapted homes for wounded veterans and their families.
So while a few fans sported T-shirts that read, “I’m better at life than you,” a reference to Sherman’s rant aimed at ESPN’s Skip Bayless, Sherman told reporters that he was having a softball game because, “It’s important to make the world a better place.”
“I’ve always wanted to start a foundation,” he said. “That was important to me when I was younger, trying to help kids who can’t help themselves. Kids who are growing up in a situation they can’t control. They can’t control how much money their parents make or where they’re born or where they’re raised. I want to help any way I can in evening out the playing field for them, making it so that they have a fair chance of getting a college education and getting out of the inner city or whatever situation they’re in. The softball game is just a fun way to raise money for the foundation and the kids.”
Those closest to Sherman can easily differentiate between the brash, cocky player and the man he is off the field. And, yes, it’s Sherman’s own fault that he is often portrayed as a trash talker, because that’s the image he so often puts out, but Sunday was a good reminder that Sherman, like most everyone else in this world, isn’t easily defined.
“I’m glad he’s doing this, because a lot of people take him for the Sherm he is on the field, but he’s totally different off the field,” Thomas said. “You can’t say enough about him.
“You have to be confident, you’ve got to be like that when you’re playing football,” Thomas added. “I don’t want him to change. I always say, ‘Be you. This is what got you here, stick with it.’ But off the field he’s humble, in the classroom he’s humble.”
Sunday’s game was full of silly, lighthearted moments, from Wilson kicking dirt on Easley’s shoes while arguing a call to Baldwin starting a fake brawl by charging the mound after he stepped into a Terrell Owens pitch, but the game also has the potential to make a serious impact on numerous lives. That’s what Sherman hopes comes from this game and the future fund-raising efforts of his foundation. He may never be known more for his off-field work than for his mouth, and that’s mostly of his own doing, but the next time Sherman is making headlines for a feud with an opposing receiver or quarterback, remember that there’s more to him than just that.
“He’s a great guy off the field,” Wagner said. “A lot of people get caught up in the trash talk and all that stuff, but off the field, he’s a great person, very genuine, humble. People might not believe that, but he’s a humble, great guy.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.