Last weekend, in sixteen seconds of post-game interview, Richard Sherman divided the sport spectating community into two groups -- those of us who didn't like what we saw or heard, and those of us who felt it was no big thing, explainable, and not representative of what and who he is.
In the nine days since the interview, I have read column upon column, opinion after opinion, explaining, excusing, rationalizing and rarely condemning what happened. For those of us who were critical, we were asked to unearth the reason for our reaction and shortsightedness in passing judgment on someone we didn't know. It was thought we didn't pay enough attention to the circumstances surrounding the interview.
Circumstances such as the heat of the moment: "What do you expect when you stick a microphone in a player's face only moments after a heated exchange?" Or our fear of what we don't know: "People are frightened of physically dominant athletes with brains too." The educational pedigree: "Richard Sherman went to Stanford and graduated high school with a 4.2 GPA. How could he be a bad guy?" The race card: "If you don't like what he did, you're racist." He wasn't the first: "Muhammad Ali and countless other athletes professed greatness. Why can't he?" And the dedicated professional: "He watches a lot of film and is a student of the game. So he's a good guy."
In the past week, I've learned more about Sherman than many of the players I've played with. I now know where he grew up, where he played college ball, the challenges he faced and obstacles he overcame, how he changed positions, how he likes candy and how he wasn't drafted until the fifth round. I've also been told he is the perfect blend of athleticism and intelligence, and none of this changes my opinion one bit.
You see, for me, as a retired football player watching televised football, I don't have to research someone before I decide to like him or not. I don't feel the need to do a background check and get to know him before I can formulate an opinion and call him a dumb ass on Twitter. I like having villains and heroes in my pro-football matchups, and for this Superbowl, Richard Sherman will be the villain.
I based this decision not just on what he said, but how he said it. If I had a dollar for every time I heard an athlete exclaim, without provocation, that he was the greatest, I wouldn't have five jobs right now. The difference for Sherman wasn't just what he said, it was how he said it. Sure, athletes from Muhammad Ali to Milt Stegall have talked about their abilities until they were blue in the face. But they did it with a smirk or a smile on their face, and with humour, to entertain the masses. Sherman did it with anger and impudence fuelling him.
When it comes to pro athletes, I prefer the ones who defer to their teammates, coaches and systems and ones who haven't been accused by the league of using performance-enhancing drugs. I prefer the players who are humble about their achievements, or if they aren't, at least blow their own horns in a comical and amusing way. I don't know how Peyton Manning is off the field, if he's as hilarious as when he is throwing lasers at children on Saturday Night Live, but I do know he is sharp enough to not present himself as selfish and arrogant when he's on the record.
I don't care that Crabtree pushed Sherman in the face mask after Sherman chased him down when the NFC championship was over. I don't care what was said prior to the game, and the excuses made for it. It is what he said, and how he said it, that bothered me.
Richard Sherman just made the biggest play of his life and contributed to his team going to the Superbowl in a major way, and instead of being thrilled and elated, the biggest thing on his mind was payback to a receiver he had just defeated in the biggest of big ways. He could not have cared less that he just won the NFC championship; he just wanted to do Richard Sherman live. Erin Andrews asked him to take us through the final play of the game, and this is how he responded:
"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, Crabtree. Don't you open your mouth about the best. Or imma shut it for you real quick. L-O-B."
Sometimes a first impression is all you need to see when it comes to deciding who to cheer for and who to root against.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.