Richard Sherman and the art of being outraged

In his post-game interview, Richard Sherman spoke loudly to Erin Andrews and no one has stopped speaking out since.

The Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks will battle for the Super Bowl on Feb. 1, live from the “City that never sleeps,” leaving us viewers with a matchup that could live on in history as it pits the two best teams of the 2013 NFL season. More than that, it’s the fact that the best offense will get to go against the best defense that has us all gun ho at the possibilities of what could happen.

But today, nobody is talking about all of that. Rather, the only thing that’s on everyone’s mind is a fifth-round cornerback playing for the Seahawks who’s currently the best in the league at his position. The only thing that all of us are talking about is what happened after the 23-17 Seahawks win. 

Everyone and your mom probably knows what that is. In a post-game interview with the pretty blond, only minutes after making the key play in his team’s win, Sherman relied on verve and passion.

(Before that, however, let me ask you what you did with your Sunday. Because Sherman made the key play to preserve a win and send his team to New York City, let it all out in the post-game interview, probably celebrated just a tiny bit, and then managed to write the latest of his weekly column for Peter King and the MMQB. Personally, some days I don’t ever get out of my pajamas.)

“Oh, well we fought hard for 60 minutes of play and always only looked ahead at the very next play. If we won, it’s because we were very fortunate. We gave it all we had, never stopped working and, with God’s blessing, we came out with a victory. The 49ers are a tremendous football team.”

Right, except that Sherman followed a different script. Above is what the average athlete would have told Erin Andrews, with probably even more clichés and platitudes. Instead, here’s the exchange between Andrews and Sherman after the game.

“Richard, let me ask you, the final play, can you take me through it?

-WELL I’M THE BEST CORNER IN THE GAME! WHEN YOU TRY ME WITH A SORRY RECEIVER LIKE CRABTREE, THAT’S THE RESULT YOU GONNA GET! DON’T YOU EVER TALK ABOUT ME!

-Who was talking about you?

-CRABTREE. DON’T YOU EVER OPEN YOUR MOUTH ABOUT THE BEST, OR I’M GOING TO SHUT IT FOR YOU REAL QUICK.”

I’ll let you figure out what Erin Andrews said, and what Richard Sherman said. I put everything in capital letters, because Sherman screamed it more than he said it. It’s like he had pushed the CAPS LOCK button of his brain before speaking.

Which brings us back to the present. Since that tirade, just about everyone has forgotten about what was a pretty great football game and focused on a short interview. It’s started with the expected reaction of the dumb, the hate and the racism. (Would this have all been different if Sherman wasn’t an African American? Perhaps. Remember Riley Cooper?) Then, a lot of good writers wrote many great things about the 25-year-old loquacious cornerback—for example, at the National Post, at Sportsnet, on SB Nation, on Grantland et even on blogs.

“A lot of what I said to Andrews was adrenaline talking.” That’s how Sherman explained it in his column, and this much should have been obvious to every single one of us from the beginning. The cornerback, who oh by the way is quite clearly the best in the NFL, had just made the biggest play of his life in order to secure the biggest win of his life in the biggest match of his life. And five minutes, we stick a microphone under his nose and express outrage when he lets his heart speak? Some would have preferred to hear clichés? Really? Let’s be serious, here, for a minute or two. This interview with Sherman, just a few minutes after an emotional win, is the closest that all of us will ever come of playing in the NFL. It’s a small glimpse into what it takes to be a professional football player and it should come as no surprise that NFL players need to go to a very, very dark mental place in order to play this sport. Funny how things work out, right?

Some say that Sherman lacked class in that interview. Sure, that’s something you could argue. And you’d probably be right too. But since when have NFL players been a become of light of our society? Since when are they model citizens? Sherman plays a sport that, slowly but surely, is killing him—only now, we all expect him to come back to our rosy reality, where we all love and respect each other, only five minutes after the most violent and intense game of the season? Yeah, ok.

Did Sherman go a little hard on Michael Crabtree? Definitely, but this rivalry between the two players isn’t something new. (Crabtree, by comparison, thinks that his nemesis talks a whole lot for someone who made only one play in the game. If he only made one play, it’s because the 49ers only threw two passes in Sherman’s direction in the entire game.)

And anyway, I would much prefer a player like Sherman, a man who’s honest and upright, and who doesn’t look to hide what and who he is, than one who has nothing to say. He lacks class, you say? Find me the cuss words that he used in that post-game interview with Andrews. Right, there’s more to a lack of class than just cussing, true. Then what do you say of a man making $550,000 and who created a charity, Blanket Coverage, whose goal is to “channel its resources to ensure that as many children as possible are provided with proper school supplies and adequate clothing”? Or how about a guy who returns to Dominguez High School and asks members of the football team if they want to prepare for three and a half years (i.e. the average length of an NFL career) or for the rest of their lives?

Because that’s where everything starts for Sherman—at school. The young man grew up in Compton, which isn’t exactly the El Dorado. He graduated high school with a GPA of 4.2 (i.e. better than yours) and then from Stanford University with a 3.9 GPA (i.e. also better than yours).

If Sherman is so confident and sure of what he can do on a football field, it’s because he’s intelligent and extremely dedicated to improve. He’s a ballhawk cornerback, and it’s not by sheer luck. See for yourself.

(The good folks at NFL Films also have a great feature on the Seahawks cornerback. “People think the best feeling in the world is when you score a touchdown in front of millions of people,” he says. “That’s not the best feeling for me. In my opinion, the best feeling is when you help somebody who has nothing.”)

Already, he’s had to apologize for what he said after the win and for singling out Crabtree. But rather than silencing him, we should embrace his personality. He spoke loudly after the game, but that apology was very subdued. That’s outrageous.