Richard Sherman is everything one could want in a professional athlete. He is a walking example of the difference sports can make, of how one man can channel fierce intelligence and an almost frightening competitive fire into something productive and riveting. He is precisely the type of person you should cheer for.
Sherman graduated from Compton's Dominguez High School with straight-A grades -- better than straight-A grades, actually, thanks to all the advanced placement classes he insisted on taking. Raised by a father who works as a garbage man and a mother who teaches disabled children, Sherman chose to go to Stanford to play football because of its academic reputation. His charity, Blanket Coverage, is impressively specific: It focuses solely on providing school supplies for inner-city kids, making sure they have the most updated textbooks and materials. Unheralded by the pros after he requested, before his junior year, to be moved from the glamour position of wide receiver to cornerback, he has worked his way into one of the best corners by force of will. The man is a state of matter. He is absurdly smart. He is an inspiration. (Most of these details taken from this terrific Jon Wilner story in the San Jose Mercury News from September.)
Of course, that's not what everyone will want to talk to Richard Sherman about for the next two weeks. They'll just want to talk about this.
That's a full-blown wrestling promo, delivered with impressive professionalism: Sherman stares straight ahead, never stumbles over his words and doesn't curse or say anything untoward. Considering he'd just played three hours of football -- considering he had just made the terrific play that clinched his team's trip to the Super Bowl -- it's amazing he wasn't panting and gasping, let alone delivering impassioned soliloquies into a camera on national television. It might seem strange to you or me that he would seem less interested in celebrating his first trip to the Super Bowl than he was destroying poor Michael Crabtree in front of the whole world. (As I joked last night, he was basically saying, "It's so great to finally be here tonight, fulfilling my lifelong dream. Ever since I was little, I dreamt of humiliating Michael Crabtree.") But then again, that's one of the million reasons Richard Sherman is one of the best players in the NFL, and you and I are not. Heck, he even kept going after him after the game, in interviews and on Twitter.
That postgame interview immediately changed the story of Super Bowl XLVII from "Will Peyton Manning win a championship and then retire?" or "Is the game going to get snowed out?" to "RICHARD SHERMAN RICHARD SHERMAN RICHARD SHERMAN." It is amazing what 10 seconds of television can do.
I'd suggest this is nothing but a positive thing. Sherman is a thrilling athlete and fascinating human being, one who has been bracingly honest about everything in the sport, from performance-enhancing drugs, to the practice of running up the score and the delight in taunting Tom Brady. It's odd that the media often lines up against him, because after what he did to Skip Bayless on "First Take" last year, we should all consider him our best friend.
"You have never accomplished anything." "I am better at life than you." I know we're not supposed to acknowledge Bayless -- acknowledging Bayless is the air that Bayless breathes -- but who can resist that?
The point is, Richard Sherman, that unlikely hero, that Stanford honors student, that beautiful lunatic, is going to be the center of the biggest event in sports for the next two weeks. The more you research him, the more you learn about him, the more you understand where he his coming from … the more you get it. So many athletes claim they aren't respected, that they're misunderstood, that No One Believed In Them. Sherman has the benefit of being right about that. It drives him. All told, I can think of few better representatives of what football is about.
What I love the most about Sherman, though, is that he's self-aware. He knows what all this is. Witness a commercial Sherman filmed for Beats by Dre headphones, released only yesterday, as if he saw all this coming all along.
That strikes me as not only an accurate version of what Sherman's Super Bowl Media Day is going to look like, but also a depressingly dead-on representation of how athletes view the media ... and vice versa. (The snarl from one reporter -- "he thinks he's so f---ing untouchable" -- is one anyone who's been part of a few media scrums will recognize.) Sherman is in on the joke. Except it's not a joke. If you were to ask me who I trusted to have a better understanding of what goes on in the sport of football, of the dynamic between athletes and the general public, of the carnival of professional sports, I'm going to trust Sherman far more than those of us talking about him this morning. Including me.
Sherman has said he plans on being a commentator when he retires from the game. ("So I can keep talking.") He's going to be terrific at it: He's going to be different in a way the Erin Andrews' interview barely even touches on. We're going to see so many microphones in his face over the next fortnight, and I can't wait. He's smarter than we are. Maybe we can all learn something.
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