Today’s special is Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. He is available in three sizes -- admirable, repellent and fascinating, and they all come with the platinum volume knob, standard, that goes all the way to 11.
Sherman, currently considered by most to be the best cornerback in the National Football League, made the game-saving play in Sunday’s NFC Championship game against San Francisco, and then took his grievances with 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree for a very public walk with FOX’s Erin Andrews. He was so strident in so little time that FOX producers had Andrews cut the interview short, a fairly-stunning decision for any network.
Sherman, you see, talks. He is loud, erudite, aggressive, thoughtful, unforgiving, generous, willing to play the heel and willing to be magnanimous in alternate breaths. He does not cut corners, he never forgets a slight or forgets to use it as a motivator, he is proud of his role as the man quarterbacks avoid, and he shows anger at anyone who thinks the conventional wisdom is wrong.
In other words, he is not doing a villain turn for the publicity benefit, or the future TV gig, or for the sheer fun of being looked at. He is, like most people, more complicated than all that -- smarter, wiser and better spoken yet with a highly-sensitive hair-trigger when it comes to slights both perceived and real. He is more than a sound bite. Indeed, he is everything you think he is, and much, much more.
His family lives in Los Angeles -- his father Kevin drives a garbage truck, and his mother Beverly works with disabled children in the inner city. His siblings, brother Branton and sister Kristyna, benefited from their parents’ insistence on education, which is how he transitioned so smoothly from Dominguez High School in Compton to Stanford.
Along the way, he sharpened his skills not only as an exemplary student loaded with advanced placement classes and leadership seminars but as someone with a mind that would not be stifled by the conventions of authority.
“Sometimes I’d get tired of it and tell Richard to stop talking in practice,” Keith Donerson, his high school football coach, told the Los Angeles Daily News, “and he’d go into the tank.”
In other words, Sherman did not find his voice at Stanford. He already had it, and he did not react well to being told to muffle it. He was suspended while a sophomore at Stanford by head coach Jim Harbaugh for smarting off, and it helped curdle their relationship. It remains moderately sour to this day, though some who know him say it is also in part because he is close with fellow classmate and Seahawk Doug Baldwin, who is also not a Harbaugh fan.
While at Stanford, he changed positions from wide receiver, where he had made a brilliant fourth-down catch to help beat USC as a sophomore, to cornerback at his own request. He had to wait a year because his then-position coach David Shaw, now the head coach at Stanford, said the team didn’t have enough other receivers, but moved as a junior and excelled at his newfound place.
He was drafted by the Seahawks in the fifth round in 2011, 154th overall and the 24th cornerback taken. He has never been asked to name the 23 chosen before him, but it is almost surely a loser’s bet, from Patrick Peterson at No. 5 to Rod Issac at No. 147.
Since winning the starting job in Seattle midway through the 2011 season, Sherman has become the best corner in the game by most estimations, a fact made most telling by this statistic: in 2013, he was targeted less often than any other cornerback and still had eight interceptions. In the world of cornerbacks, avoidance is the highest form of flattery.
Indeed, he seemed genuinely offended that in the biggest play of Sunday’s game, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick would have the temerity to test his side of the field with Crabtree, the wide receiver he likes least in the game. And when he deflected the pass that was intercepted by teammate Malcolm Smith to effectively end the game, he made a point to go up to Crabtree and give him his two million cents worth. The result was a taunting penalty that meant nothing in the game, and his postgame rant directed toward, though not at, Andrews.
Then again, she’s not the one who threw to his side of the field.
Sherman is now the bête noire of this Super Bowl, the pro wrestling heel whose intellect and other positive attributes will be subsumed in the more popular and stereotype-able “He’s an out-of-control bigmouth.” He will try to use his brain and articulate nature to explain his way out of the corner he’s painted for himself, but that typically does not work, especially when the audience has already picked the image it prefers.
Public scorn, you see, weighs a great deal, as those who have tried to carry it have learned over the years. Sherman’s shoulders are broad, and he has already developed his reputation with some help from himself. He did, after all, once tell the Vancouver Sun that “about half the league takes (the prescription ADHD drug) Adderall,” a substance he was later suspended for allegedly having taken, although he won his appeal when the sample taken from him was found not to have followed proper protocols. He’s had Twitter feuds with Darrelle Revis, a face-to-face soliloquy with Tom Brady after a game in 2012, televised arguments with ESPN personalities, even a famous e-mail sent out while at Stanford directed toward people complaining about a Valentine’s Day prank with which he was not associated.
So yes, he talks. Always has. Probably always will. But the weight, the weight is always there, and nobody can carry it for long without suffering under the burden. Richard Sherman probably knows it intellectually, but it is a lesson that is usually learned face-first.
- Ray Ratto, CSN Bay Area