Can football players ever win? I don't mean win a game. I mean, we want them to act like aggressive animals on the field. But as soon as someone shoves a microphone in their faces, they have to instantly switch into gentleman mode. Take Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, whose televised "rant" about 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree brought on a massive backlash. He's since apologized, but why did everyone come down so hard on him in the first place? Maybe his candid, post-game, adrenaline-fueled response wasn't very sportsmanlike -- but did it deserve the severe and sometimes racist responses?
When 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw the ball at wide receiver Michael Crabtree, Sherman tipped it, enabling an interception by Seahawks linebacker Michael Smith. The Seahawks won the game and will advance to the Super Bowl. Minutes after this climactic play, FOX Sports reporter Erin Andrews asked Sherman about it. Over the roar of the cheering crowds Sherman shouted:
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. Don’t you ever talk about me.
"Who was talking about you?" Andrews asked.
Crabtree. Don’t you open your mouth about the best, or I’ll shut it for you real quick. LOB!
And then Twitter exploded with outrage over Sherman's unsportsmanlike barbaric yawp (ahem, h/t to American poet Walt Whitman). He was called a thug, among other things. He got hit with the usual responses Americans have to an "angry" black man. And suddenly we had this portrait of Sherman as a dangerous, trash-talking rageaholic.
You might be interested to know that Sherman grew up in Compton as the son of a hardworking garbageman. He graduated from public high school with a 4.1 GPA and attended Stanford University on a scholarship. He has a degree in communications. He founded Blanket Coverage, a nonprofit that levels the playing field for ambitious, hardworking K-12 students. Unlike other NFL players, he doesn't have an arrest history and hasn't been accused of beating women or even so much as cursing during interviews. I mention all of this just to give a more complete portrait of the person who said those things after the game.
Sherman has since apologized:
I apologize for attacking an individual and taking the attention away from the fantastic game by my teammates ... That was not my intent.
And in a blog post Sherman explained what happened from his perspective, how he reached out to shake Crabtree's hand, saying "good game." How Crabtree rebuffed him, and how the two have a history of animosity that goes beyond this game.
Okay. So. Was Sherman gracious in his post-game interview? No, definitely not. Do we want our kids trash-talking like this after a game? No way. But what do you expect? You send a bunch of men out on a field, tell them to clobber each other and WIN, and then ask them what they're thinking while their adrenaline is still pumping -- sometimes you're going to get a candid look at what's really going on in their heads. And that's something along the lines of I AM THE BEST I KILLED OUT THERE because that's what you have to think in order to win a game in the NFL. Here's how Sherman's Stanford coach David Shaw put it:
Personally, I love Richard, but I won't say that it's unfair. That (trash-talking image) is what he's chosen. That quick interview -- that quick, explosive show of emotion and energy after a football game -- that's why we try to get our players to give interviews about 15-20 minutes after a football game as opposed to 2 minutes after a football game.
But that's what he showed people, and people are going to form that initial opinion of him, which is fine. That's part of who Richard is. That's part of how you get to be a great football player.
So there you go, fans. You want thrilling, pumped-up football? This is what that looks like. Obviously we want everyone to be gracious post-game. But if a player slips and reveals the hubris and swagger that enable him to win, we don't have to vilify him.
Do you think people overreacted to Sherman's post-game "rant"?
Image via FOX Sports/NFL