SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 19: Cornerback Richard Sherman #25 of the Seattle Seahawks answers questions after defeating the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 during the 2014 NFC Championship at CenturyLink Field on January 19, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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 Dominguez High in Compton, Calif., 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.
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 his 10-second post-game interview with Erin Andrews that blew up the Internet.
It was 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. 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 post-game 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.”
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 news media often lines up against him, because after what he did to Skip Bayless on “First Take” last year — saying “You have never accomplished anything; I am better at life than you” — we should all consider him our best friend.
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. Sherman has the benefit of being right about that. 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 is self-aware. He knows what all this is. On his charity’s Web site on Saturday, Sherman posted a commercial he filmed for Beats by Dre headphones. In it, he is surrounded by reporters on the offensive, asking him why he’s so brash, why he doesn’t respect the game, whether he is a “thug.” Sherman looks exhausted and aghast ... but ultimately moves on, putting on his headphones and doing his own thing. He can only be who he is: It is our fault if we do not understand. This commercial was filmed before the NFC Championship game. It is as if he saw all this coming all along.
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. I can’t wait. He’s smarter than we are. Maybe we can all learn something.