Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Q: How many hipsters does it take change a light bulb (craft a social commentary about what Richard Sherman’s outburst, and our reactions to it, really means)?
A: It’s a really obscure number, I doubt you’ve heard of it (at least one more).
So, unless you are unaware that technology exists, you probably know that Richard Sherman said some stuff Sunday night after the Seattle Seahawks pulled off a thrilling 23-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in front of a rabid 12th Man crowd at Century Link Field. While the real story was the solid team win for the Seahawks and the coming matchup against the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, Sherman’s postgame comments took center stage.
The interview in question took place shortly after Sherman tipped Colin Kaepernick’s pass away from Michael Crabtree into the open arms of teammate Malcolm Smith, sealing the Seahawks victory in emphatic fashion. So, yeah, Sherman was a little excited. Again, I am operating under the assumption that most have seen this by now, but if not, take a look.
Twitter can be a cruel mistress, and this has been especially true in the days that have followed the victory.
While a great deal of time and energy was spent recounting the bitter rivalry that exists between these two squads in the lead up to this game, what was less well known was the ongoing feud specifically between Sherman and Michael Crabtree. The brash and loquacious nature with which Sherman plays the game can make for a short list of friends from the rest of the teams in the league, but with Crabtree it was little more personal.
This fact, and Sherman’s now storied rise from the streets of Compton, CA, to attend Stanford University have led to a string of pieces written in defense of Sherman. Nearly all of which highlight his intelligence and involvement working with local charities within the communities of Compton and Seattle.
There is little doubt that Sherman has always been a polarizing player, but his comments have unleashed a media circus, and he has been vaulted onto the national stage. The main thing that many people are finding difficult to reconcile, are the conflicting narratives being presented by Sherman’s defenders and detractors.
He is athletically blessed, driven, angry, intelligent, arrogant, a true competitor, a guy who speaks from the heart, a jerk, classless, and misunderstood. He is an excellent communicator who occasionally says stupid things.
America just doesn’t know what to do with this guy. Many are saying that this event has brought about a referendum on the nature of sportsmanship, race and personal values, and if not that grandiose, at least it has gotten people talking.
Basically, minus the obvious and sinister subtext of racism that resides in far too many of the responses to Sherman’s diatribe, and yes, if you think that the fact that he is a black man with dread locks has nothing to do with the way people are reacting, you are more than a little bit naive, many of the people who were turned off by Sherman’s interview have a pretty valid point.
It wasn’t great. It did steal focus away from the great victory his team had accomplished, and in the grand scheme of things, it was just unnecessary.
That said, turning this into some kind of moral commentary on what kind of person Sherman is, is asinine.
This got me thinking about the story came out last year when one of the top prospects of the Minnesota Twins, Miguel Sano, was benched for celebrating a home run a bit too much, and I felt a slight inkling of “Twins Way” panic. (First reference to the Minnesota Twins accomplished, I am tying this thing together.)
Oh no, is he not going to be the type of guy that just “goes about his business out there,” what are we going to do?
This is the Twins we are talking about. This is the team that got rid of David Ortiz because his defense wasn’t very good, and he demonstrably objected to being asked by Tom Kelly to shorten his swing.
At least we saved a minuscule amount of money. Isn’t hindsight fun?
While bringing up Ortiz is a bit of a cheap shot, and we can all agree that teaching a young player a little humility isn’t a bad idea, but at what point does this begin to become ridiculous. What is the proper amount of sportsmanship? What does it look like? What criteria are we using?
In a game like baseball, rife with innumerable lines of written rules, one must also learn the unwritten rules. The only problem? No one can seem to decide what they actually are.
Sure, some are more certain than others. But from Cole Hamels plunking Bryce Harper on purpose because he was a Rookie, to Dallas Braden berating Alex Rodriguez for walking over the mound, things tend to get pretty complex (and equally ridiculous) quickly.
The A-Rod-Braden incident works pretty well as an example, because how these debates play out is based largely upon the context of the situation in question, as well as the people involved.
The “Stay off my mound” defense seemed obscure, but we accepted it, because, well, A-Rod is a pompous jerk. Or, at least this is what a large enough group of people thought of him to make Braden seem like he was just dutifully following some sacred baseball code, as opposed to a crazy person spouting nonsense.
The Sherman debacle is working out in the same fashion. For many people, especially in the Midwest, Sherman’s interview with Erin Andrews was the first time they were seeing him say anything, so it makes some sense that he rubbed people the wrong way. Now that social media has given all of us time to review his résumé both on and off the field, many have altered or changed their initial feelings about him.
However, some people just can’t seem to grapple with the fact that someone who is as intelligent, kind and generous as Sherman so clearly is, can also act like such a cocky, uncontrollable jerk sometimes. And for all the mavens of sports talk and analysis out there, those who possess the stalwart audacity and creative spirit that allows them to connect a line between two narrowly spaced dots, the Super Bowl provides them the perfect opportunity to begin their debate.
Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
What would Peyton do?
Peyton Manning would never start yelling at Erin Andrews. He’s classy. Humble. Honest. OMAHA!
Minnesota should know more than a little bit about this conversation, we have our own Peyton Manning, his name is Joe Mauer.
Manning may have more postseason success, but what Mauer lacks in Championships he more than makes up for in amount of Milk consumed daily, and the number of times his wife has given birth to children that accurately represent the mascot of his team. (Second Twins reference accomplished, feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, as this tapestry is woven together.)
Look, we all love Joe Mauer, we would be foolish not to. But his interviews aren’t the stuff of legend. He is a bit on the bland side. He is Tim Tebow with talent, minus the Jesus-hugging (addition by subtraction). However, the difference between Mauer and a lot of professional athletes, is that I actually believe that he might just be that nice. (Seriously, “Joe Mauer Nice” is a thing.)
Maybe it’s Twitter, maybe it’s million-dollar endorsement deals, but we can all mostly agree that post game interviews really don’t offer us anything at this point. We get tired cliches and mind numbing soliloquies on the nature of “helping the team win.”
The only thing is, we seem to like it. We crave it.
What’s he going to say this time? I really hope he mentions something about “putting the team first, and trusting each other.”
Sports franchises are now valued in the billions of dollars, and the players have seen others get burned too many times to say anything that is actually representative of what is going on behind the scenes. Sometimes this can be a good thing. But when canned responses and platitudes become the required standard, it isn’t about sportsmanship anymore. It is about keeping the boat from rocking, and the gravy train of profits flowing.
Which is why, especially in the NFL, an athlete being outspoken in regards to just about anything is frowned upon. But how much will be tolerated is highly situational, and obviously, those who are the most successful on the field are provided much more margin for error than those who aren’t. A fact Chris Kluwe learned all too well with the Vikings.
There is little doubt that Sherman’s interview captivated so many people, because it was so raw and seemingly uninhibited. Many tried to understand it, to wax philosophically about the mental edge these guys have to play with in this brutal sport, and a lot of that is probably pretty accurate.
In many ways, the way that professional sports have evolved over the years is both remarkable, and slightly terrifying. As Dick Bremer and many others like to say, we are seeing “grown men playing a kid’s game.” This, inevitably, is where some of the calls for a more humble reaction from Sherman that reference some kind of prepubescent ideal of sportsmanship begin to break down a bit.
All this vitriol and confusion surrounding Sherman also comes from another place. People can’t stand the contradiction. He’s either yelling near, or around Erin Andrews all the time, or he is rogue scholar who is utterly devoted to philanthropy. The generation of StrengthsFinder devotees is confounded by the fact that from moment to moment he dances between the two sides of the way he is being represented in the media. They call him inconsistent, when really, and I’m not a scientist, he is probably just a human being.
The guy is a made for TV movie waiting to happen, and ironically, many of the people who are the consummate champions of the actuality of the “American dream,” still need him to pick a side.
In the end, I guess I just don’t understand that line of thinking. Especially when the crime that has led so many to indict him as a person is so minuscule in the grand scheme of things. Yesterday he went on a sort of mini-apology tour (Chris Christie is probably glad he could stop for a while), mainly because he doesn’t want to overshadow the other members of his team.
I don’t know if he needs to apologize, and he was pretty clear that he was apologizing for targeting Crabtree specifically, but don’t think that he isn’t going to be back to his trash-talking ways in the Super Bowl, and I’m fine with that.
I am sure there are plenty of athletes who are perfectly humble, and self-depricating in a way that I as a Minnesotan identify with, but I guess I don’t expect the professional athletes I support to be just like me. Because they aren’t just like me. They are one percent of the most freakishly talented, insanely competitive group of people in the world, who have somehow been both genetically blessed and lucky enough to avoid injury long enough to ascend to the highest pinnacle of their sport. I would prefer they take winning in stride and say the right things, but only if those things are actually sincere.
The fact that we likely wouldn’t be having this conversation if Sherman had just mumbled some nonsense about “coming together when it mattered most,” serves to point out how fickle we are in evaluating these situations. In our search to categorize our opinions we attempt to group players and people into neat little boxes. We view the concept of sportsmanship in the abstract, and it becomes a stereotype.
Because what is a stereotype really, other than a template for what we want things, people and the world to be. A conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image.
When in reality, there are a lot of different ways to be a good sport, and there are a lot of different ways to be a good teammate, person and role model. But instead we’ve settled for far too many shortcuts, sound bites, and excerpts from “Hemingway for Dummies” along the way.
Richard Sherman said some foolish things in the heat of the moment that ended up bothering a lot of people last weekend. But as we have seen, he certainly isn’t “classless.” However, he also isn’t the cookie cutter version of what some people seem to pathologically need an athlete to be.
In the end, Sherman isn’t just one thing, or one image, and the best part is, no one else has to be either.
Richard Sherman at Seattle Children’s Hospital
Richard Sherman visiting patients at Seattle Children’s Hospital
(All of that was to avoid talking about Tanaka signing with the Yankees. Worth it.)