Obviously there is a lot of vitriol outside of the Pacific Northwest (and I'm sure some inside as well) being spewed at Richard Sherman right now for his comments immediately after the game about Michael Crabtree. These stories are never as simple as they seem: Sherman is demonstrative, yes, but his comments with Erin Andrews of Fox Sports went beyond his usual combination of critique and self aggrandizement, instead seeming to be straight up mean.
Now most people in Seahawk nation are probably Sherman supporters at the end of the day, but I want to take a moment here to explore why his outburst happened, not from the perspective of whatever beef happened between Sherman and Crabtree to put that pot on boil, but how it ended up on camera in the first place.
First, some context.
I work for a professional sports league. One of my jobs is to produce videos for that league, including post game interview videos. In the industry, we despise the post game interview. It never yields anything remotely interesting, but it's become such a staple of the broadcast package that its presence is taken for granted. So you make the best of it.
Generally, with about 2 minutes left in the game, the field producer and his or her team will make a decision about which players they will try to "get" after the game is over. This list is always more than just one or two players long, because while all players not getting medical treatment MUST be available to the media 20 minutes after a game in the locker room, they have no media obligation on the field, and the teams are not required to compel their players to interact with the media in the immediate post game. In fact, many teams actively discourage their players from speaking on the field, for reasons that are crystal clear as we wade through the crapstorm stirred up by Sherman. That 20 minute "buffer" time exists for the same reason: to give players and coaches a chance to cool off and give the team's PR folks a chance to check in with the players and see if there's anyone that really needs to be held from media access (a player might suddenly "need treatment" after the game for example).
Every team has players that always make that list: players who are outspoken, but articulate. Camera friendly (no cursing, this is live sports after all!), but emotional enough that there's always a chance that the guard could slip and you'll get something truly outrageous. Sherman would have been tops on the post game list for that game, because he both made the game winning play, AND is exactly the type of player you want to go after for these pieces.
The game ends, and everyone rushes onto the field and tries to corral their interviews. In some cases for broadcast TV, the PR guys will actually help wrangle the players you are looking for. Particularly in the playoffs where team's attitudes bend a bit on the player access line in the interest of keeping broadcast partners happy with these national telecasts.
So let's dial in on the Sherman interview. Andrews is a pro - she's been doing sideline work for a long time, and while I've never found her particularly insightful from an analysis perspective, she's always been very smooth handling players and coaches after the game in any sport she's worked. They see Sherman, and he's free, or being held by Seattle's staff for them, and they set up the interview. This being the playoffs, the whole team is on the field, and most of them have been whooping it up with Sherman (I imagine, that obviously wasn't on tape) so Sherman is amped. You can see the energy just radiating from his body as he takes the NFC Champions cap and puts it on before turning to the camera.
We've all had interviews like this. They're fantastic because even though you don't know what you're going to get, you know you're going to get more than a stiff reading from the Big Book of Sports Cliches. So Erin leads with what is obviously the scripted question, and Sherman erupts with a response that is several universes away from the expected. But here you have a choice. Sherman has gone negative, and as the interviewer you have the power to change the subject or direction (or at least try to). But Erin Andrews is a pro, and she knows what's going to get hits on YouTube and views on NFL.com and blow up Twitter, and dominate the 24/7 sports media talking points for the next couple cycles.
"Who was talking about you?"
Those five little words form a question so leading it would have been instantly objected to, and sustained, in a court of law. Those five words take what was primarily a self-aggrandizing crowing by Sherman and direct him to call out another player by name. Now, I know it's clear Sherman was talking about Crabtree based on context and his first rant, but as Marlo Stanfield said, "My name is my name." It becomes, I personally believe, a much bigger deal when you directly put that person's name in another player's mouth. And Andrews knew exactly what she was doing. Sure enough, today you can't escape the headlines about that interview, and every time that clip plays on YouTube or ESPN or NFL.com, that's money in the bank for the networks.
Is the follow up the whole reason for this? No, of course not. Is Sherman responsible for his remarks? Sure. Although, you have a hard time convincing me that what he said was anything to get bent out of shape about. I spent the last 7 days listening to people on TV tell me the Seahawks receivers were mediocre, so... But if you're going to lay blame at Sherman's feet, don't look past the person that very knowingly instigated at least half of the words that have gotten people so worked up.