Maybe the best way to explain why Richard Sherman went Richard Sherman after his dramatic pass tip effectively punched Seattle's ticket to the Super Bowl occurred a few minutes earlier in the Seahawks' 23-17 NFC championship game victory against the San Francisco 49ers.
It came from the bottom of a ferocious pile of players scrambling for a fumbled ball, where the screams of San Francisco's great linebacker NaVorro Bowman were so horrifying that players began waving for medical personnel even as others still fought for possession.
In an instant Bowman had gone from making a critical play in the crucial moment of a huge game (he caused and recovered a fumble, even if the refs ruled otherwise) to seeing his knee busted backward, causing incalculable pain. Soon he'd be carted off the field, his evening over and his future in doubt. In the depth of that hell, some fans promptly pelted him with popcorn.
In an instant everything had changed.
This is the NFL. This is it at its core. This is not just the most violent sport in the country. It is not just the most mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting. It is also the most random. It is also the most scrutinized, scorned and celebrated.
Walk into a postgame NFL locker room and it's a sea of battered bodies, exhausted looks and, even sometimes in victory, pained expressions over poor decisions or worse executions. There is limited joy, because another test always awaits. This is hard. There is almost nothing else like it. And trying to apply any real world, regular-guy sensibilities to life inside the modern Coliseum is folly.
Players have to find ways to overcome the fear of what might happen to them – pain, loss, embarrassment, failure and debilitation. Every game is a roll of the dice, and far more bad can happen than good. Almost no one leaves unscathed, not in body and not in reputation. They are paid handsomely for the job, but when you're being hauled off a field with a mangled knee or your poor play is being mocked on the big screen, the money isn't much help.
They have to put all of that out of their mind, they have to find concentration amid chaos, courage amid calamity and adrenaline that will last for hours across back-and-forth swings of momentum and adversity.
Some turn to God – writing sayings on their uniforms, pointing to the heavens after big plays. Some pump themselves up with bravado – sack dances and choreographed touchdown celebrations. Some overwhelm themselves with the fire of being doubted – inventing the concepts that "no one" thought they'd win. Some play for lost relatives. Some fall back on a blue-collar, lunch pail, act-like-you've-been-there-before ethos.
Others, such as Richard Sherman, revel in building their self-esteem by tearing down others, often by talking and talking and talking and talking, eventually Sunday live on national television in a manner that was so over the top that Fox – Fox mind you – decided to cut it short.
Did broadcasters expect something different? Emotional moment plus live mic plus Richard Sherman isn't likely to result in an NPR discussion.
A sizeable enough segment of the country found this wholly offensive and profane, which was also predictable. Richard Sherman – Stanford educated or not – sure isn't for everyone.
There is nothing wrong with not liking Sherman. As sure as he is free to act as he chooses, fans are free to judge him on that and react accordingly. That's part of the deal. The only mistake is to assume that everyone in the NFL should act the same way – or more specifically act like you think you would act if it were you who was playing the game.
It's fine to seek out a player who is capable of calmly shutting off his emotion, acting with humility (even if it's just an act) and harkening back to some Chip Hilton lesson of yesterday. There are plenty of those guys in the NFL too. Just don't expect everyone to be the same.
Maybe in an ideal world that's how it would be. This isn't an ideal world. Expecting anything out of football players other than playing football is to set yourself up for extreme disappointment.
This is a diverse league and not just racially. It's culturally, geographically, politically, socioeconomically and even by position mentality. A football team has attackers and protectors, positions where remaining calm is paramount and ones where beast-mode anger needs to be tapped. There is a certain mentality that often works for offensive linemen. There's another for wideouts. It's no surprise they often celebrate differently.
It can even change player to player. An oft-cited example of the way to comport yourself on the field was Detroit Lions great Barry Sanders, who often dashed into the end zone and just handed the ball to the ref. Sanders' style, however, was to remain composed as defenders attacked him and figure out ways to slip through gaps no one else saw. You can see why he was tranquil upon scoring a touchdown. Conversely a Marshawn Lynch is looking to run over a linebacker – or a bunch of them. His mental state is likely different at the end of the run. Neither one is wrong.
Many will scoff at the notion, but what Sherman does to lift himself up so he can make Super Bowl-advancing plays is, at its core, no different than the ultra religious player, or the quiet humble one, or the goofy lineman, or the superstitious kicker or any one else out there.
It's all the same. It's why criticism of Tim Tebow thanking his Lord via Tebowing was just as ill-conceived. That was his thing. It was worth respecting, even if some found it as unnerving as a Sherman choke sign.
All of this is just players looking for something to aid themselves in pursuit of victory in a sport where so many things are outside of their control. You can't have the NFL that fans love so much without it.
Certainly virtually all would agree that class and camaraderie are superior concepts to gloats and greed. It'd be great if it didn't occur. It'd be great if no one cut anyone off in traffic or backstabbed for a promotion or scammed the government or any number of other things, too.
Richard Sherman acts the way he acts because he has determined that it is the best way for him to maximize his ability in his chosen profession and minimize the overwhelming doubts that come from playing the lonely position of shutdown corner.
And when that is rewarded and affirmed in one of the most brilliant plays you'll ever see, yeah, he's going to double down on it. Every single time.
The sport is too vicious, too erratic, too arbitrary to not understand and (at some level) respect the crutch, whatever the crutch, that players lean on.
Because in an instant you can be NaVorro Bowman. And in an instant you can be headed to the Super Bowl.
That much, every single player understands.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Richard Sherman
- San Francisco 49ers
- NaVorro Bowman