Richard Sherman’s Loud March

Famed Union Army General William Tecumseh Sherman, 14 years after the end of the Civil War, issued the ultimate cautionary words to a military academy’s graduating class: War is hell.

 

 

Infamous Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Kevin Sherman, mere minutes after winning a war of an NFC Championship game versus the San Francisco 49ers, said the following to sideline reporter Erin Andrews, and by extension, a very large television audience:

 

“I'm the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you're going to get. Don't you ever talk about me. Don't you open your mouth about the best, or I'll shut it for you real quick."

 

More on Crabtree in a little bit.

I’m not sure how many people witnessed General Sherman’s address (several hundred?) although I’m sure that hundreds of millions have read his iconic quote. I imagine that the tone of his address was passionate, yet measured.

 

Millions of people watched Cornerback Sherman’s rant; those who did can attest that it was passionate and bombastic. It was also a little bit bizarre to see a winning player manage to be boastful, derisive and more than a little intimidating in the course of about nine seconds. If you’re not one of the millions that has seen it, here it is.

 

Two more housekeeping notes:

Erin Andrews handled it about as well as anyone could have.

 

Crabtree is 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree. With the game and a berth in the Super Bowl on the line, Sherman made a terrific, athletic play to deflect a pass away from Crabtree, which became an easy game-clinching interception for linebacker Malcolm Smith. While Smith got the pick, it was Sherman, perhaps the best cornerback in the league, who made the superior play. Obviously, something has caused bad blood between Crabtree and Sherman, at least in Sherman’s mind.

 

Hours after the somewhat bizarre Sherman postgame rant, the cornerback became a huge topic of conversation, with most of the discussion painting him as one of the game’s villains. To many, what he did was the very definition of showboating, classlessness and lack of sportsmanship, which seem to have taken over the sports world. Many fans saw him up-close for the first time, and while he already enjoyed a reputation for being flamboyant and cocky, the image of Sherman spewing at us in our living rooms solidified a thought that has gone rival:

 

Richard Sherman epitomizes what is wrong with the modern athlete.

 

The shame of it is that Sherman could be one of the greatest role models of all; his story is one of great perseverance, determination and intelligence. Hailing from the notoriously tough Compton section of Los Angeles, he not only excelled in football and track, but was a stud (4-plus point GPA) in the classroom. He became the first student-athlete from his school to qualify for prestigious Stanford University, academically and athletically.

 

Still not considered a can’t-miss prospect, the LA native started his Stanford career as a wide receiver before asking his coach (ironically, the Stanford head coach is current 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh) to switch him to cornerback. He made the transition (it was a return to one of the positions at which he excelled in high school) quite well, but when it was time for the 2011 NFL draft…

 

…Sherman waited and waited as 153 players were selected ahead of him. Yes, one hundred and fifty-three, including many other cornerbacks, were selected ahead of him. As a fifth-round pick, he signed for much less money and had no assurance of even finding a spot on the Seahawks’ roster. Three years later, he is arguably the most important player on a team that is going to the Super Bowl. Most would consider him to be the best cornerback in the league. His status in the game is due to his hard work and self-belief even more than his god-given athleticism.

 

Unfortunately, Sherman has also earned a reputation for being a foul-mouthed, trash-talking “punk”, as the Andrews interview was only the latest and most explosive example of the cornerback going over the edge of self-promotion and competitive fire. It’s a shame, but Sherman has earned a lot of this rep, even as he has certainly made all of the right life choices to elevate himself from an overlooked kid from impoverished Compton to a Stanford grad who is the best player on the best defense in a league that stirs passion like no other.

 

Like some other athletes who have preceded him, Sherman is a bit of a puzzle to me. I enjoy that he plays with an edge, and can even ignore his trash-talking on the field. BUT, there is trash-talking and then there’s taking it to a level that no reasonable fan can defend.

 

Some of our most beloved athletes have also been some of the biggest trash talkers. Muhammad Ali, though very controversial in his time, almost invented the art form, showboating in and out of the ring, and poetically both deriding his opponents while picking the round in which he’d knock them out. He is also, to many, the greatest and most important sports figure in the last 50 years or so.

 

A generation before Ali burst onto the scene to once become the most recognizable man on the planet, a backwoods Hall of Fame pitcher named Dizzy Dean was almost as brash as Richard Sherman is today – especially given the times in which he played. Not lacking at all in either self-awareness or self-belief, he personified his own quote, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.”

 

In more recent times, you may have heard of two of the greatest trash-talkers to ever play in the NBA, as they are two of the five or so greatest to ever play basketball. Their names: Michael Jordan and Larry Bird.

 

Trash-talking is also not confined to the sports world, or even to the last two centuries! In fact, read some of the writings penned by Mr. War is Hell himself, General William Tecumseh Sherman. In 1860, he made these comments (thanks, Wikipedia) to a professor in Louisiana:

 

“You people of the South don't know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don't know what you're talking about.”

(He even started with the dreaded "You people.")

 

Over time, we will find out whether Richard Sherman will mellow out – even a little – over time; he is just 25 years old. If he needs to keep talking trash on the field (although I’m not a fan of that), it really doesn’t bother me. But hopefully, his other antics will be lessened, if not eliminated. Preceding the Andrews’ postgame interview and immediately following his game-saving play, Sherman chased down his nemesis, Crabtree, and mockingly patted him on the rump, extended a mocking handshake to him and then gave a choking gesture to the 49ers sideline. In those moments, he announced himself to casual and diehard NFL fans alike as the poster boy for boorish, ego-driven behavior. He had the national platform, and he used it to pose as an arrogant jerk, and to some, a thug.

 

Until he comports himself in the public eye with even a little class, that image will continue to define him. We have no way of seeing the bright, articulate, determined man who defied all odds to rise to the pinnacle of his profession while toting a degree from Stanford.

 

In fact, one hopes the talented, bright Sherman will soon embody this quote from the late, great Bears running back Walter Payton – to whom, I will accord the last word:

 

“When you're good at something, you'll tell everyone. When you're great at something, they'll tell you.”

(Matt Goldberg) is the author of five books and hundreds of eclectic, published writings. He is also available to help you craft the article, speech (and even book) that will help you best reach your intended audience. Contact him via matt@tipofthegoldberg for all inquiries.

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