by Jac Bergenson
“I’ll put it like this. In my 24 years of life, I’m better at life than you.”
Above is just one nugget from Richard Sherman, All-Pro cornerback of the Seattle Seahawks and trash-talker extraordinaire.
Sherman, now 25, has come into the national consciousness lately, infamed by his rant after the NFC Championship Game. After his game-ending play in the endzone, in which he tipped a pass away from San Fransisco 49ers’ receiver Michael Crabtree, he gave a passionate, loud, and angry interview to reporter Erin Andrews.
Staring into the camera, he screamed, “Well, I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get.” He continued, beside a confused Andrews, “Don’t you ever talk about me.”
Asked to clarify, Sherman specified, “Crabtree. Don’t you open your mouth at the best, or I’ll shut it for you real quick.”
After such a high-profile tirade, the press went into a frenzy. On Twitter, some personalities took to defending Sherman, such as Dan Levy from Bleacher Report, who said in a tweet, “People who are upset at Richard Sherman for his post game [sic] interview didn’t watch the same game as me. I appreciate the passion, honesty.”
Others stopped short of praising Sherman. Rich Cimini, an ESPN NFL Nation reporter, told Sherman to “show some class. That was awful.” Mark Schlereth, also of ESPN, tweeted, “Sherman you’re embarrassing yourself…Shameful.”
The public was equally divided. Suddenly, Sherman was the topic of discussion even for those ignorant of all things football. Thrust into the spotlight, Sherman took to an apology tour, saying, “I apologize for attacking an individual and taking the attention away from the fantastic game by my teammates…. That was not my intent.”
Sherman hardly shied away from the incident, taking to podiums day after day and addressing the issue. His response seemed a mixture of apology and arrogance. One day he’s sorry, and the next he’s deflecting attention by turning the word “thug,” which had since become synonymous with his name, into a racial epithet.
The word, Sherman insisted, has become an “accepted way of calling somebody the N-word.”
Some media personalities took to defending Sherman. Suddenly, the story was his escape from Compton to the lecture halls of Stanford University; the story was his 4.5 high-school GPA, and his 1200 SAT score. The push was that Sherman was intelligent, and his credentials were being ignored because of his race.
But a thug is something that crosses racial lines. A thug is someone who uses violence and intimidation as his tactics. Someone who, for example, stares into the camera, flaring his nostrils like a bull on a charge.
A thug is someone who doesn’t know when trash talk becomes plain harassment. Take Sherman circa 2013, when he instigated a classless social-media feud with then-Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. That feud, which Sherman took far outside the lines, landed him on ESPN’s First Take, where reporters Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless interviewed Sherman about the incident.
Rather than rationalizing his thinking, apologizing, or simply defending himself, Sherman took the opportunity to act crass and arrogant. Sherman launched an unprovoked attack on Bayless.
Sherman began by saying, “Whenever you refer to me, whenever you speak to me, whenever you address me, address me as All-Pro Stanford graduate because those are some accomplishments you will aspire to but never accomplish. You have never accomplished anything.”
“I’m intelligent enough and capable enough to understand that you are ignorant, pompous, egotistical, cretin;” Sherman continued. “I’m going to crush you on here because I’m tired of hearing about it.”
Sherman cemented his classlessness by telling Bayless, “In my 24 years of life, I’m better at life than you.”
Peyton Manning, Sherman’s opponent in Super Bowl XLVIII, did not reach his level of fame by stomping on every opponent the way Sherman has. Neither has Tom Brady, nor Adrian Peterson, nor Drew Brees, nor nearly any of the NFL’s most prominent stars.
Sherman is a sharp contrast to even his own quarterback, Russell Wilson, who has been revered throughout his two-year career for his philanthropy and his work ethic, not his trash talk.
There will always be a place in sports for instigators and trash talkers. The league, daresay, would have less personality without them. But to act like a thug, then revile in horror at an association with the term, is childish.
Richard Sherman won’t suffer for this incident. He was a background figure on the national stage, and now he is sure to receive millions of dollars in endorsements. His agent, Jamie Fritz, says he expects Sherman to make more than $5 million in endorsements as a result of his outburst.
Time will only tell if Sherman adjusts his attitude. He has every right not to. But anyone who acts like a thug, time and time again, is hard-pressed to avoid the label.