Friday, January 24, 2014

The Richard Sherman Brouhaha

If you follow NFL football at all, by now you surely know about the interview with Richard Sherman, Seahawks cornerback, after the game.  I think Mr. Sherman's response could legitimately be called an "outburst" - in subsequent interviews, he called 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree a "mediocre" receiver.  In short, he advanced the notion that he was the best defensive back in the league, whereas his opponent was not very good.  Since then, there has been a enormous amount of talk about the interview, with some apologists saying he was simply still caught up in the on-field emotions, some haters saying he showed himself to be a "thug", and a whole lot of other opinions running a broad gamut.

Of course, the play in question - the game-winning play - resulted in the ball being tipped away from Mr. Crabtree by Mr. Sherman, into the hands of another Seahawk player (linebacker Malcom Smith), ending a drive that might have resulted in a game victory by the 49ers.  As a result of the play, a Seahawk victory was sealed.  It was indeed a great defensive play, with the significance of it magnified by the harsh reality of playoff football:  the winning team goes on to the Super Bowl and the losing team goes home!  But it was just one play, and many other players played a part in the game outcome.  After all, football is a team sport, right?

My first reaction to the interview was that it showed Mr. Sherman to be rather immature - simultaneously bragging about his skills and denigrating the skills of his opponent.  It's been my observation that people who promote themselves, and especially those who do so also by diminishing others, are really expressing an emotional insecurity.  Such attitudes are not universal in the NFL, and most interviews with NFL players are characterized by statements of mutual respect between opponents, as well as gratitude for the contributions by other players on the team.  Playing and surviving in the NFL is tough, and I'm sure many players, even some of the greats, have their moments of insecurity.  There are diverse ways to cope with that, including (but not limited to) the sort of boasting and chest-beating of Mr. Sherman.  And a lot of chippy talk goes on amongst the players on the field during the game that isn't repeated in typical post-game interviews.

Of course, the media are bored with statements of mutual respect and the other cliches that dominate interviews with players:  we're going to play just one game at a time, the winning team played better than we did, the opponent we beat is a great football team, we're going to treat this game like any other game, etc.  Compared to such scripted banality, Mr. Sherman's outburst was a dream come true for the media!  At last!  A player whose responses weren't limited to the team script.  One by-product of Mr. Sherman's outburst is that he became the media's darling, and the rest of the Seahawks team was correspondingly pushed out of the limelight.   I wonder how much Mr. Sherman thought about that consequence before he spoke.

Sadly, another consequence of Mr. Sherman's outburst was a lot of venomous commentary directed at him by viewers of the interview.  Completely unwarranted statements, including the seemingly obligatory racist remarks, were made about Mr. Sherman by people whose knowledge of the player as a human being was virtually nil apart from the few seconds of the interview.  If someone pushes him/herself into the limelight, the result is always like this - opinions are like assholes, of course, and uninformed opinions often come from assholes.  Surely he realized what the response to his remarks could become.  The full range of blowback often includes opinions voiced by racists, and other morons of all sorts and descriptions.  The less said about such, the better.

Had Mr. Sherman chosen to respond with the standard cliches, there would be little notice given to his remarks - only a few folks complaining about how stupid and boring athlete interviews have become.  Instead, the whole run-up to the Super Bowl will be dominated by the fallout from this brief postgame interview.  The interview is larger than the game, at least in the media, for the moment.  If Mr. Sherman is torched by Peyton Manning and his receivers, or if Mr. Sherman pulls off some more great defensive plays, you can imagine the nature of the post-game "analysis" by the media!

Mr. Sherman is a Stanford graduate and evidently is both intelligent and articulate.  One might think that these traits would have prevented him from indulging in the outburst.  Perhaps he was still caught up in the emotions of the moment - I have no way to know that.  But the immaturity and implied insecurity remain, regardless of any "back story" or exculpatory explanations for the outburst.  It's difficult for me to respect self-promoters who publicly denigrate their opponents, no matter how well they perform on the field.

Perhaps later in his NFL career, Mr. Sherman will look back and regret the intemperate remarks he made.  Or perhaps he'll look back and see this moment as the key to a career filled with accolades.  Certainly there are historical precedents for the latter - Mohammed Ali (the self-proclaimed "greatest") comes readily to mind, or Deion "prime time" Sanders.  They weren't all braggadocio - it ain't bragging if you can do it!  His performance on the field over the coming years likely will settle that issue one way or another and if he performs well enough to achieve really high honors (e.g., the NFL HoF) then this flap triggered by his outburst is simply irrelevant and is perhaps only a footnote in his professional career.

Now can we let the dust settle and focus on the game?  Probably not ...

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