Anyone who watched the NFC title game last weekend witnessed Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman spontaneously combust on the field after effectively ending the San Francisco ‘49ers’ season.
After deflecting a pass intended to Niners receiver Michael Crabtree to a teammate for a game-clinching interception, Sherman ran after Crabtree, slapped him on the butt and offered the wide receiver a few “congratulatory” words of “Good game,” along with the world’s least genuine handshake. In response, Crabtree hit Sherman in the face. Unfazed, Sherman went on to flash the choke sign to Niners quarterback Collin Kaepernick for having the audacity to try to throw the potential game-winning touchdown on him.
Once all the seconds ran off the clock, solidifying a 23-17 Seahawks win and trip to the Super Bowl, Sherman unleashed an angry, barely comprehensible tirade to a mostly confused sideline reporter Erin Andrews and to a bewildered national audience. At the least, Sherman’s words could be described as obnoxious.
Yet as cringe inducing as Sherman’s antics and postgame interview were, I realized something: Richard Sherman might be one of my favorite football players and I’m not exactly sure why.
Maybe it’s because his outspokenness is something we rarely see in professional sports. As much as I appreciate the class and grace of a Peyton Manning, among many others, the typical clichéd athlete interview was grown incredibly boring. As much as I love hearing about how much athletes respect each other, their comments seem so scripted, if not at times dishonest. Especially given the intensity of the Seahawks-Niners rivalry and the history between Sherman and Crabtree, Sherman’s blunt, loud honesty is refreshing.
Maybe it’s because as much as Sherman talks – and he talks a lot – he actually backs it up. Statistically, Sherman is the best cover corner in the NFL, so his mouth is validated to an extent, even if his talent doesn’t make his words any less loud. As detailed in the above hyperlink, he leads the league in interceptions, QB rating against and coverage snaps per reception, among other relevant defensive statistical measures. The pure skill and acrobatics of his game-ending deflection was evidence enough of his talent as a corner.
Maybe it’s because Sherman’s combination of ability and unabashed self-flaunting is not unlike historic, generally well-respected greats of other sports, as observers on social media pointed out, Sherman’s bravado harkens back to the quotes of the self-proclaimed “Greatest.”
Maybe it’s because Sherman publicly trolled, even if less than articulately, the Epitome-Of-Everything-Terrible-About-Today’s-Sensationalism-And-Opinion-Driven-Journalism and ESPN personality Skip Bayless on Bayless’s own debate show.
Maybe it’s because off the field he’s actually quite well spoken and intelligent. He left Stanford University with a 3.9 GPA, and is pursuing a master’s degree. He has done extensive charity work to help disadvantaged kids get an education. He also took the time to pen an op-ed the night after he sent his team to the Super Bowl, published on The MMQB with Peter King, to explain his side of Crabtree fiasco, among other events Sunday night. Understanding this side of Sherman, reveals his antics are more than just talk; they’re a calculated attempt to get “in the head” of his opponents.
Maybe its because he just makes watching football more fun. If you hate him – understandable in its own right – he is the perfect movie villain. If you love him, he’s the enjoyable movie villain who you end up rooting for.
Simply, Sherman is the most entertaining individual on football’s most entertaining team, and ultimately that’s what professional sports are all about – entertainment.
Richard Sherman is nothing if not a wrinkle in a sports world that pushes athletes to present themselves as boring and uncontroversial. For that, I’ll be rooting for him on Super Bowl Sunday, even though it would probably be easier to do the opposite.