(Tyler Ricky Tynes covers Villanova basketball at VU Hoops of SB Nation and is a features writer at Dime Magazine. His work has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, ESPN, the Sporting News, the Citizen's Voice, the Huffington Post and more.)
On May 25, 2013, I changed the way I looked at athletes.
Seated hundreds of feet from the middle of Lincoln Financial Field, I watched Rob Pannell, a senior attacker for Cornell's Men's Lacrosse team not only lose his final game in a college uniform, but also turn to tears in front of dozens of media members and camera crews not even fifteen minutes after his emotional loss.
Pannell, finishing his career as one of the greatest players to ever touch a collegiate lacrosse field and four-time All American, was one tough cookie. The 5-foot-10, 195 pounder got crushed on multiple plays attacking the goal and saw Cornell lose to Duke by two scores. He was brutish. A stocky player with a thick neck, someone who at first glance, appeared to be able to keep his cool.
That's the thing we sometimes forget. Athletes, whether paid millions to perform or are playing for millions of fans collegiately or professionally, are people. They feel pain just like the rest of us but they're forced to control it.
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, the same player who tipped a potential-game winning touchdown pass away from San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree for an interception to send the Seahawks to the Superbowl has emotions.
His post-game interview with Erin Andrews, one that will likely further dig him into infamy and cause most fans outside of Seattle to root for Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, wasn't "classless." His outbursts didn't come close to being "rude," "shameful," or anything of the sort. And he definitely isn't a "thug."
Rather, it was exactly the reminder that fans needed to hear.
How long will it become acceptable, that when players get interviewed fifteen minutes after they endure bone-crushing hits and spine-shattering cracks that responses to questions like "how do you feel after that victory" get answered with the bare minimum? It's a habit that should have died as soon as it began.
Although basketball isn't as physical a sport as football, the players, and coaches for that matter, endure similar emotion. When Villanova blew out Providence earlier in the season and Providence coach Ed Cooley was asked "if he saw anything positive" from his team during the game. His response was as it should have been: fiery.
"Not a damn thing," Cooley said after the Friars thirty point setback. "Did you see anything positive? If you did, then you're a magician."
He could have easily looked at Bryce Cotton's game. He dropped over twenty points on one of the country's top defenses, instead he spoke with his emotions, the same thing people without these titles do on a daily basis
Sometimes fans expect too much from players that occupy their attention for entertainment. Every quarterback isn't going to give an answer like Tom Brady or Andrew Luck or Cam Newton. And just because the former do so in that manner, it doesn't give them anymore class than Sherman. Some people exude their success differently. That's just how things are.
Deion Sanders once taunted the entire Atlanta Falcons squad after an interception and had a press conference saying that the Georgia Dome was "his house." Muhammed Ali called Joe Frazier a "gorilla" and an "Uncle Tom" before their third meeting in Manilla. And Jim Harbaugh even ran up the score a few times during his days at Stanford when he was clearly in the driver's seat against now-Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and USC.
Michael Jordan shot free throws with his eyes closed and Allen Iverson stepped over Tyronn Lue in the 2001 NBA Finals, this is what sports is: entertainment at it's core. Fans' favorite player is a different person when the cameras aren't on, when the microphones aren't listening and there's nothing wrong with that.
In a world where fans crave passion and energy from their favorite players at all times, Sherman reminded the world what that could be like in a mere fifteen seconds. Some players don't care about positivity, just like those that watch them, they work for a check, albeit bigger than most.
Sports are another form of entertainment, you need characters. Sherman is no different than Sanders or Jordan or Iverson or the others before him, but just like the formers he has to back up his talk with production. Last time I checked, the Seahawks are still going to the SuperBowl.
What would college basketball have been last year without Ole Miss' Marshall Henderson and care-free coach Andy Kennedy? What would La Salle's big victories in last year's March Madness have been without hearing a post-game interview involving a "Southwest Philly Floater?" Still basketball, but without the entertainment, without the emotion, without the same qualities that led people to call the NFL's next big thing a "classless thug."
But I learned something many months ago.
As Cornell's Pannell sat in that cold, taciturn chair in a dark media room beneath Lincoln Financial Field, he showed his true colors. Seven months ago I had never seen a player cry. Seven months later, I wish they all acted how they played when the lights came on and the cameras cast an endless sea of LED flashes.
With emotion and intensity hot enough to rival the sun.