Thursday, January 23, 2014

In Defense of Richard Sherman

There's one person who would tell me I need not defend Richard Sherman louder and stronger than the millions of Americans who feel this way, and that is #25 himself. But, it's high time this story was told from another angle, another perspective. Here we go.

I've known exactly who Richard Sherman is since I first saw him play at Stanford. It was hard not to considering his speed, his long dreads and starting in a high profile position. This dual sport athlete (a track star at Stanford, he specialized in the long and triple jump—that says speed and acceleration to me) was named All-American as a wide receiver his Freshman year. He switched to cornerback after a season-ending knee injury in 2008. Perhaps that's one reason, the Irish lost to the Cardinal in the next three match-ups. 
Richard Sherman being Richard Sherman; Sunday was nothing new.
If you know a thing or two about this wide-out, his attitude, his mouth, his swagger are always part of the package. In addition to his 38" vertical unassisted (#unreal), ESPN's Sports Science make a point of identifying his mouth as one of his biggest assets. "He's not afraid to use it to motivate." And I'm here to say I wasn't the least bit surprised by what happened moments after the game. I'm not saying it's not important, but Richard Sherman was being...well, Richard Sherman. 

ESPN's "Richard Sherman: I'm No Villain" reports "I was on a football field showing passion. Maybe it was misdirected and immature, but this is a football field. I wasn't committing any crimes and doing anything illegal. I was showing passion after a football game." And I believe him. It's consistent with who he is and what he does. To me, it is also reflective of one thing: the personality and spirituality of a cornerback.
The Spirituality and Personality of the Cornerback
I think cornerbacks are one of the best athletes in all of sports. You must have speed, agility, acceleration and good vision on the field. But in addition to those physical characteristics, you must possess some key intangibles. You must be both confident and resilient. You are an island out there. While the wide receiver gets the attention and glory, the cornerback gets little of it. One of my students, a former CB referred said "You are a shark...lurking...waiting to snap quickly on their prey. They must chum the water and be ready for the attack. And many times you miss. It's almost a lose-lose situation." I loved his take on this critical defensive position.

You may not agree, but I want my cornerback to have the attitude of Richard Sherman. I want him to think he is the best player out there. I don't want you to take all the credit and lose sight of the fact that you are part of a larger system, but I want you to do your job and do it well. He did; Niners lost because of that. That's a tough pill to swallow.

Timing is Everything
Third, I think it's important to consider the timing of Erin Andrews' question. The NFC Championship came down to literally the final 30 seconds of the game. Kaepernick's pass to Crabtree was tipped by Sherman and resulted in an interception that is sending Seahawks to the Super Bowl. Less than one minute later, as I was still trying to process all the happened, Richard Sherman was standing in front of the microphone. I was surprised how quickly everything went down.
This floor is just too hot.
As I was trying to then make sense of that, I kept returning to what happened this past weekend at the De La Salle vs Monte Vista High School boys' varsity basketball game. A game of rivals, the gym was standing room only—a near fire hazard. Teams were ranked second and first in their division and this game also came down to the final minute. When Monte Vista won, the entire student body flooded the gym floor. I watched as a massive mob of kids ran to hug the players. My dad said "that would have never happened when I was in high school." I wish it hadn't. I watched Coach Allocco trying to shake hands of  the other coaches and players. Neither team could even approach each other; it was sad to see them forced off the floor. These guys had battled it out for 32 minutes and they were unable to even say "good game" or give their respects to one another. 

At our rivalry game, the players and coaches complete this post game ritual and then the winning team runs up the bleachers to meet their classmates in the stands. It gives some time and space from the opponents and the hot floor. As a fan, I love to observe all of this.

I wish that today's media would allow just a few moments so professional athletes could do the same. So many of the players have been on teams together in the past. The place where they stand is full of aching pain and delicious hope. One team is going to the biggest dance of them all, the Super Bowl; the other team is packing their bags until summer camp. 

That floor is burning. Cameras could easily show an aerial view of the field and stadium. They could focus in on how players are talking to one another or not. They could allow the athletes themselves to gain some composure, shake it off and celebrate with one another. In Sherman's defense, this hot player on a hot floor got caught in the hottest moment possible.
All this being said...
Richard Sherman didn't have to talk to Erin Andrews. If Erin Andrews hadn't found Richard Sherman someone else would have. Richard Sherman lost sight of the fact that he is a member of a team that made the win entirely possible. His anger was "misdirected and immature" and his words were selfish. We all know there's no "I" in team, but there certainly is a "me." 

I know that many people believe athletes are endowed with a responsibility to serve as good role models because so many of us—young people in particular—look up to them. But once again, in this regard I would like to thank Richard Sherman. I have found sometimes the best way to teach teenagers how to be, is to show them how NOT to be. Football players at the school where I teach are coached and repeatedly told to keep calm under pressure. That can be incredibly hard to do, especially in the highest profile moments. But, with the story that has erupted from the 2014 NFC Championship, we see why it is necessary. Thank you Richard Sherman; Go Broncos.

Photo Credits
At Stanford

Sherman Wallpaper
Andrews & Sherman

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