Charting Sherman's March To The Meadowlands
If you can walk the walk, you can talk the talk. My mother used to say that to me whenever we watched professional athletes boast about their greatness, and she reminded me that I wasn't supposed to act that way when I was competing in a sport. She always felt it set a poor precedent for others, and she certainly didn't want me to start carrying myself in such a manner.
Even if I dominated an opponent, showing class and humility mattered way more than gloating about my performance, and my parents would have put a boot into my backside if I behaved like Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman did following Sunday's huge 23-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers. I learned to put the team's success as the main priority and cared little about individual accolades, but I saw plenty of players perform similar antics compared to Sherman's during my playing career.
I never have understood how someone could act so selflessly and embarrass his team in the process, and I have never held much respect for any athlete who chooses to behave in such a fashion, but Sherman presents an interesting case where I do somewhat understand the reasoning behind everything he does.
Don't get me wrong. I don't condone displays like the one Sherman exhibited Sunday night, as his postgame tirade in front of a national audience has no place in sports. He should have kept whatever conflicts exist between him and 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree on the field instead of blasting him during an interview with FOX Sports reporter Erin Andrews. He never should have started screaming into the microphone and boasted about being the "best in the game." The entire situation showed little class on Sherman's part, and it sent a bad message about the Seahawks following one of the greatest wins in franchise history.
Making matters worse, this isn't the first and surely won't be the last time Sherman makes a scene. Last year, he infamously yelled, "You mad bro?" toward Tom Brady following a thrilling victory over the New England Patriots, and he also had Washington Redskins tackle Trent Williams so infuriated in last year's Wild Card round that he nearly started swinging punches at the vocal defensive back. He also burned bridges as a guest on ESPN's "First Take" television show when he bashed columnist Skip Bayless by saying he was "better at life" among other things. He has a knack at getting under people's skin, whether it is done intentionally or not, and the Crabtree situation once again brought that abiility to the forefront.
Yet, despite the rant itself being uncalled for, I can see why some people were also quick to defend the superstar. Nobody truly knew about the animosity shared between Crabtree and Sherman, as their rivalry gained teeth when Crabtree tried to fight Sherman at a charity event last spring. And the argument about poor timing for the interview makes sense, as the game had just concluded with a wild finish capped off by a spectacular tip play by Sherman that ended up in the hands of linebacker Malcolm Smith for an interception. Adrenaline can make people act differently than normal, and I do believe that had a great impact on his reaction to Andrews question following the game.
We ask our athletes to be real, to be authentic, and to be genuine. But when a passionate, energized player like Sherman does just that, we ridicule him for being arrogant and self-absorbed. While I don't think repeatedly staking claim to be "the best corner in the game" is necessary and I find the practice to be beyond cocky, I also view him as an intriguing player who I admire for choosing to be true to himself. Nobody gives better press conferences than Sherman, and his intelligence speaks clearly in most of his responses. Even when he does something borderline ridiculous like Sunday's fiasco, I find myself wanting more. He's a true entertainer, something that this league has lacked for several years.
And even though his pure arrogance can make him easy to dislike at times, Sherman has matched his words with his on-field production and then some. He led the league in interceptions this season with eight, his second straight season with that total, and he has 20 picks in his three year career. He will soon receive a much-deserved salary increase, as the Seahawks will have to open the checkbook and give the All Pro corner a massive pay raise he has rightfully earned.
Teams simply don't test him, and that remained the case on Sunday. His former college coach Jim Harbaugh, now the head coach for San Francisco, clearly had a game plan centered on staying away from Sherman. Colin Kaepernick only went after him twice, and the second time ended up leading to the decisive turnover to clinch a Super Bowl berth for the Seahawks. It's clearly evident that opponents realize how special of a talent Sherman is, but he needs to learn to tone down his behavior away from the field of play. His enthusiasm and passion are contagious and I would love having a team full of players who care as much as Sherman does, but he needs to do a better job harnessing those traits off the field. Gestures like the choking sign he gave in the direction of Kaepernick after that final interception need to be eliminated from his repertoire, and hopefully he will learn from these mistakes as he matures.
As a former 5th round pick, Sherman has always had a chip on his shoulder, and he felt disrespected for falling that far in the draft. His brashness doesn't sit well with everyone, but he doesn't care what outsiders think and has no problem being himself. He's one of the core leaders for this football team and his work ethic coupled with passion for the game has fueled Seattle's rise to become one of the NFL's elite teams. Teammates love playing with him, and while he regretted his actions on Sunday taking away from the team's impressive victory, don't expect him to suddenly change his tune and stop calling himself the greatest. His confidence has created a foundation for his own success while also providing a spark for his teammates, and that swagger has helped carry this team to this point.
Like him or not, Richard Sherman has become one of the premier faces in the league for his superb play as well as controversial statements off the field. He's clearly found his comfort zone and knows what he needs to do in order to perform at his best, even if others don't always appreciate it. Not everyone may enjoy witnessing his character on display, but his rising jersey sales and increased exposure point to a rapidly growing fan base. He figures to remain a prominent figure on a team that has the core in place to contend for years to come, and I can't wait to see what he how he performs at Metlife Stadium on February 2nd.