If you’ve made even a minimal attempt to follow football over the past couple of weeks, you’re probably sick of hearing about Richard Sherman. In fact, the noise about Sherman has been so deafening that this may not be the first piece you’ve read beginning with that sentence.
In case you’ve tuned out, here’s the SparkNotes version: Sherman is one of the best defensive players in the NFL, and he’ll be the first to tell you so. A couple weeks ago, Sherman clinched a Super Bowl berth for his Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game by breaking up a last-minute pass intended for one of his many rivals, San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Sherman taunted Crabtree after the play, which was pretty standard behavior for perhaps the league’s biggest loudmouth.
But the real dram’ came after the final whistle. In a live postgame interview with FOX’s Erin Andrews, Sherman looked directly into the souls of viewers at home and shouted that Crabtree was a “sorry receiver.” He also yelled, “Don’t you open your mouth about the best, or I’ma shut it for you real quick,” which, of course, is a dope thing to yell on live television.
Unfortunately, not all FOX viewers shared my enthusiasm. Many fans took to Twitter, flooding the website with tweets calling Sherman an animal and a thug. Many more skipped right past the euphemisms and openly called Sherman the n-word.
The disgusting words of grown adults became a story of their own, distracting from legitimate debate about Sherman’s conduct. He’s pissed off too many opponents to name, many of whom happen to be multi-time Pro Bowlers. His on-field behavior is brash and arrogant. He acts without decorum and violates rules both written and unwritten. He is unsportsmanlike. He is an asshole.
All of which is to say that he’s an absolute delight to watch on the football field. Football is but a game, and those who deviate from standard pigskin etiquette always make things more interesting. Curmudgeonly old fans love to call Sherman classless and disrespectful, but the man is nothing if not entertaining. Crabtree smacked him in the face last week. Carolina Panther Steve Smith helicoptered him to the turf earlier this season. 325-pound Washington Redskin Trent Williams straight up punched him in the jaw after last year’s playoff game between the two teams. The next week, Falcons receiver Roddy White gave Sherman a taste of his own medicine, burning the corner for a long touchdown and subsequently taunting him.
As a Patriots fan, I was first introduced to Sherman’s antics early last season, when the Seahawks beat us (I play for the team). Sherman chased down Tom Brady after the victory and goaded the quarterback with the time-tested gibe, “You Mad, Bro?” When asked about Sherman last week, Brady said he respects his opponents and wins graciously and suggested that Sherman does not do the same, which, duh. But any time you can get Touchdown Tom to wax sanctimonious about the precious Patriot Way, you’re doing something right.
Sherman’s bold behavior is magnified by the fact that he is perpetually in the spotlight. Cornerbacks are perhaps the most vulnerable players on a football field and he embraces the challenge. Left one-on-one with football’s best receivers, he shuts them down nearly every time—when quarterbacks dare to throw his way, that is. Despite not being targeted often, Sherman led the league in interceptions this season, picking off eight passes. He’s 6’3”, strong, and quick for his size. His game-saving play against Crabtree last week encapsulated his game, a feat of technique, athleticism and intelligence.
Speaking of intelligence, many defended Sherman from Twitter’s best and brightest two weeks ago by arguing that, hey, Sherman went to Stanford, and Stanford does not admit “thugs.” While this may be true, it was irrelevant and a perplexing argument to make against racists who did not deserve to be addressed at all. Nonetheless, Sherman is indeed smart as a whip, and he may be the most entertaining of all NFL players in press conferences. In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, he’s somehow turned question after stupid question into thoughtful and hilarious answers. In the last couple days alone, I’ve seen Sherman patiently answer questions about the league’s marijuana policy and, incredibly, players’ supposed conduct at strip clubs. I don’t know how some of these people got press passes.
On Sunday, all eyes will be on Sherman as he takes on all-time great quarterback (and corporate shill for Papa John’s) Peyton Manning. Manning rewrote the NFL’s passing records this year at the age of 37, and his receiving corps is overwhelming in its stylistic diversity and overall talent. Facing the biggest challenge of his career with everything on the line won’t stop Sherman from running his mouth, though. By all means, take to Twitter and exercise your divine right to talk shit about Richard Sherman. Just don’t take your eyes off the screen for too long, or you’ll be missing a hell of a show.