The case of Richard Sherman

In honour of the Super Bowl this Sunday, a football post!

If you’re a football fan, you’ve probably heard of Richard Sherman. Yup, he’s the Seattle Seahawks cornerback who made a phenomenal last-minute play to seal the Seahawks’ berth into the Super Bowl. And then, when reporter Erin Andrews asked him a simple question, he’s the guy that went, well, psycho.

Now I’m not a fan of the standard pre-, mid-, and post-game interview that we all have heard thousands of times, where a player rattles off tame clichés to keep everyone calm and avoid giving the opponent any ammunition or fire for the game. I feel like I waste precious moments of my life when I hear interview answers like: “they’re an excellent team”, “they’ve got some talented guys there” and “we’re going to have to play for a full 60 minutes to come away with this one” when we all know that in their locker room, among themselves, they were talking the height of smack.

So on one hand, it’s refreshing to hear, as Andrews herself called it, Sherman’s “raw emotion.” It puts some reality back into the boring sports interview. But,  in proclaiming his superiority and his opponent’s “sorry-ness”, he crossed a line between professional and, well, childish.

It has been widely reported that Sherman and Michael Crabtree (the intended receiver on that final play and target of Sherman’s outburst) have an acrimonious history believed to be from an interaction at a charity event. It is easy to believe that this fun fact played a role in Sherman’s behaviour. Sherman claims that his outburst was about his opponent’s incompetence meeting his superiority. I believe that this was personal.

In response to people bad-mouthing Richard Sherman with names like “thug”, his supporters are quick to point out how he came from the projects and excelled academically, graduating top of his class from Stanford, and that he’s very involved in his community.

On the other hand, in judging a person, I am compelled to consider the whole person. Richard Sherman is also someone who has brashly and unapologetically  gone off on and make personal attacks against sports writers who dispute his “I’m the best” rants. Frankly, when someone or something is truly “the best”, they don’t need to say it – or scream it – especially not like a deranged psychopath.

There’s no disputing that, in terms of his academic achievement, he’s a model worth emulating. In terms of his behaviour with people who disagree with him though, he’s classless, arrogant, and ignorant. And for that, I can’t respect him – no matter what his GPA was.

Richard Sherman was nice and honourable when nobody was watching – which is ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL. But now that people are watching, and given that he has demonstrated his ability to be selfless (community service) and a good role model (excellent student), NOW IS THE TIME to really be those things and make a difference. Seems to me like his success has made him feel entitled to forget all the great things he’s done and been, like his celebrity offers him some sort of tacit permission. I don’t agree that it does. In fact, his celebrity amplifies the attention that he gets and thus, the possible impact that his actions can have on impressionable people who watch him.

Richard Sherman needs to decide whether he wants to be emulated for his commendable off-field service, drive, and commitment to education, or whether he wants to be the poster boy for vindictiveness, personal attacks, and petulant resistance to criticism.

Richard, you can be intense without sacrificing your dignity. You’re at the beginning of your career. You are obviously busy preparing for the big game, but starting Monday, you might want to give this some careful consideration.

And on the topic of sports writers criticizing you, consider the case of the much-maligned Montreal Canadiens’ defenseman and Norris-trophy winner P.K. Subban, who plays in probably the most demanding hockey market in the world. He has been the subject of a tremendous amount of criticism, especially in commentary leading up to the selection of the Canadian Olympic hockey team. After he was selected, he was asked whether he believes his selection would silence his detractors. His response: “I hope not because they’re the people that make me better, so I hope they keep critiquing and finding things to talk about.”

There you have it: proof that passion and intensity can exist with class and intelligence. And that, we can all respect.

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