Defending Richard Sherman

For more than 24 of my 32 years life on this earth, I have been a Seattle Seahawks fan. I’m not one of these new 12’s that decided to love the Seahawks because they recently stamped their ticket to the Super Bowl. I've been around the proverbial tortured block of being a fan of this team. I’m not putting down the newly acquired fans that are now a part of our fan base, because you have to start somewhere and I don’t expect people to be as passionate about this team as I am. Welcome aboard.

My journey as a Seahawks fan began when I was 8 years old—December 10, 1989 to be exact. I only know the actual date because I looked it up on Pro-Football Reference. A study of the box score would tell you that it was a meaningless game. The Seahawks beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 24-17, giving them their sixth win of the season in a year that would end with a paltry 7-9 record and fourth-place finish in the AFC West. I specifically remember this game because it’s the first game that I remember watching. I was in the living room at my house where my dad and older brother sat watching the television. For whatever reason, I sat down on the floor and experienced my first Seahawks game with them. In a game obviously not meant for primetime, something special happened. My dad cheered loudly when Dave Krieg, one of the best quarterbacks that the Seahawks have ever had, eluded the Bengals’ rush and threw a perfect pass to the end zone where a Seahawks’ receiver named Steve Largent hauled the ball in at the back of the end zone. He managed to keep both feet in bounds before falling to the turf.

It was the 100th touchdown catch of his illustrious 14-year career and the celebration that ensued after the play was pretty cool for my 8 year old eyes to see. The players were happy, the announcers were happy, and my dad and brother were happy. I was, too. By the end of the 1989 season, which turned out to be his last, Largent owned nearly every NFL receiving record in the book—most receptions, yards, and receiving touchdowns. Since then, he’s been passed by names like Rice, Moss, Carter, Owens, Harrison and a few other guys who are really good at catching footballs.

Like a lot of things in my life, my fanaticism with the Seahawks is closely tied to the memories I made with my dad, who passed away less than a year ago. He wasn’t the biggest Seahawks fan there was (though he loved Russell Wilson), but we watched countless games together throughout my childhood and into adulthood, always cheering on our home state team. Me, a little too rowdily at times, I’m sure.

I’ve seen some very lean years and moments such as Largent’s catch will always stand out. For most fan bases, a team’s success is cyclical—feast or famine. 22 of the 32 teams in the NFL have rewarded their fan base with at least one Super Bowl win.

We’re one of the 10 unlucky and tortured ones that have never experienced the thrill of seeing our team hoist a Lombardi Trophy. With the Seahawks taking on the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium on February 2, hope has never been higher for Seahawks fans. Many of us believe that this is truly our year and whether or not most of America cheers with us is irrelevant. It’s Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, a team that, if you believe the masses, has more class in one of Manning’s fingers than the entire Seahawks team—including their fan base.

That’s because of guys like Richard Sherman. In all my years of loving this team, I have never seen a player like #25. He’s arguably the game’s best cornerback and he will be the first, second, and third person to let you know about it. To play cornerback, you have to have attitude and arrogance and he lacks neither. He’s brash. He’s cocky. He’s loosely-lipped and he’s not afraid to speak his mind. He’s all these different components mixed together and put in a blender—and for most of you, the final concoction is sour. He is also very easy to dislike—unless, of course, you’re a Seahawks fan. He talks a lot—maybe a bit too much for my liking—but one thing that you won’t find anyone say is that the man’s elite-level of play on the field fails to back up his mouth. He strives in living in the minds of his opponents. For him, the mental side of the game is every bit as important—if not more so—than the physical part. He’s a man with an enormous chip on his shoulder, going back to his Stanford days with Jim Harbaugh. He’s also a very smart guy—born in Compton, educated at Stanford. He’s likely seen both feast and famine in his life, and his intelligence, coupled with probably a very real Compton-earned street education, makes him a different kind of guy and a lot of fans across the country can’t handle it.

We all know what happened immediately following the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers yesterday. Erin Andrews managed to catch Sherman immediately following the biggest win in team history. He had just made the biggest play of the game in the biggest game of his life against a player that he admittedly does not like for reasons mostly unknown. It went viral very quickly and everyone has an opinion. Most Seahawks fans vehemently defend him while some don’t. Most everyone else thinks the man is a lawless thug who has no place in the game.

While I definitely cringed during his explosive outburst, I understood. At the time, I didn’t know the history between him and the target of the verbal assault, 49ers’ receiver Michael Crabtree. I understood because I have played sports competitively for most of life, and while I was obviously never the athlete that Sherman is, I can appreciate the heightened emotional state that the man was in. He took it personal that 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick would be crazy enough to throw to his side when a trip to the Super Bowl was on the line. He let everyone know that and gave a vitriol-laced opinion on Crabtree’s abilities—not his character—during the tirade.

Look, I’m not trying to make excuses or defend Sherman’s behavior. He doesn’t need me to do that because he knows that if I’m trying to do that, I’m wasting my time writing an article to people that would judge the entirety of who he is based on what he says to the media. This isn’t the first time that he has ruffled feathers and it surely won’t be the last. I’m merely saying that despite my mild dislike in how he came off, I understand the gravity and brevity of situations like that. For as painful as it was to watch and hear, I actually kind of enjoy rooting for a player that puts very little, if any stock in what people think about him when he gives interviews.

Sherman likes when people talk about him—good or bad. It’s good for business. After all, he does hold a degree from one of the most prestigious universities in the country. He’s not a dummy and there’s likely a not so thinly veiled method to his madness, because his words have caused quite the stir. Do you think it’s possible that the man just raised his monetary worth—both now and in the future—with all the press he is getting? At least entertain the idea.

Here’s the thing, though—Richard Sherman is not a 30-second interview. He’s not a handful of press conferences. He’s not his antics on a football field. He’s a man—a man that is probably much different from you or I. He does great things off the field too, but that’s not all of him, either. He, like the rest of us, is a flawed human being that had an emotional outburst aired on national television and gave millions of people an opportunity to form a mostly negative opinion of him. I’ve had some not-so-too-proud moments in my life as well, and thankfully I didn’t have a camera in my face when I lost my cool. Maybe Colin Kaepernick wishes he could take back his taunting impersonation of Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton?

Sherman has since apologized for all of it, probably at the advice of his agent or publicist. I’m sure he resents doing so, because he was being himself after the game—likely a small part of himself, but himself nonetheless. I’m sure he also feels that people who have judged his entire character as a man and thrown racist tweets his way on Twitter would apologize, too. Or maybe he doesn’t care, like he wishes many of us wouldn’t. Or at least not this much.

We football fans are a funny bunch. We root for our teams to win games. We want blood. We cheer for big hits and love when players on the opposing team fail. We know these men put the health of their bodies—and their lives—on the line and we’re entertained. We love it. Some fans live for it. The NFL is big business and we gather with each other at games, screaming our rabid heads off. These games invade the lives of our families and our living rooms as we pace back and forth, being tossed around like the wind at every good or bad play, penalty, victory or defeat. We demand that these players give 110 percent of themselves to a violent game—to our team—while caring every bit as much or more than we do. When the final whistle sounds, we want to take these players and put them back in our own perceived morality box and have them be men that give scripted, clichéd answers that sound "classy" to questions that often aim to bait them into saying something that will produce a big or controversial story. Basically, many of us are asking them to be fake; abandoning who they are while pandering to us. For as passionate as so many of us are, we’re also unfair in our expectations of the different collections of men that play one of the most violent and emotional games on the planet.

I heard people saying they felt bad for Erin Andrews because of the way Sherman acted during the interview. She quickly soothed those souls when she said this:

Athletes don’t do that. They’re usually composed. They usually take a minute and that’s why we grab them right after games because we hope they lose their minds like that, we hope they show pure joy. We hope he does the same thing at the Super Bowl. We don’t want a watered-down version of him.

Yet, so many expect these athletes to shut off the insane amounts of adrenaline and testosterone that is flowing through their beat up and exhausted bodies. Andrews completely confirmed what everyone else already knows—the media loves controversy because it sells. There’s clicks, views, and ad-revenue out there for the taking. She’s trying to find a big wave and Sherman gave her a surfboard. He being himself is compelling and refreshingly honest, and maybe annoying for you non-Seattle fans. A watered-down version of him is boring and fake. We want to show our sons and daughters a watered-down and fake version of him while pointing at him and saying, "That’s what a true classy player looks and sounds like." Meanwhile, watered-down #25 was just dishonest with himself and all of us. I’m not looking at Sherman to be an example for my three young sons—it’s my responsibility to be that. Or, I can simply point to Russell Wilson or the countless other players on the Seahawks who would have given the politically correct answers that many seem to want. Taking the high road is definitely not wrong, but it’s not who Sherman is.

Admittedly, I wish he said something different. I wish he could have found a way to stay true to himself while not making my team look bad. I wish he could have put the emphasis on his team and fans rather than himself. You know, scripted and robotic. Lacking passion. When I’m honest with myself, I care what people think about me and my team. Sherman doesn’t. Not because he is a jerk, but because he knows if he is himself, he can't win with you. He knows his teammates and his fans have his back and most everyone else doesn't. Seahawks fans are mocked for defending him while everyone else slays his character. As 12's, that's what we're going to do. We have his back, for better or worse. I only have a real problem with what he said if his team and fan base as a whole does, because ultimately, that should be all that matters. If it ends up being a contributing factor in tripping up a team and fan base that is starved to achieve the ultimate prize, it’s a big deal and we'll likely revisit this soon enough.

But even then, is it fair to expect Richard Sherman to act fake for the sake of our self-important views on athlete morality?

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