U mad, bro? You might be if you typecast Richard Sherman too narrowly. (Robert Beck/SI)
RENTON, Wash. -- In his first press conference since he called San Francisco 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree "mediocre" following the postgame meltdown that shook the world in the NFC Championship Game, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman played to type by playing completely against it. On Sunday evening, he was brash, outspoken and obnoxious. From the podium at Seahawks headquarters on Wednesday, Sherman was introspective, respectful and ... dare we say humble. The questions came thick and fast about his postgame rant, and Sherman was more than ready for the backlash. In fact, he seemed to revel it to a certain degree.
"It is what it is," he said. "Things like this happen, and you prepare for the consequences. You deal with people's opinions. I come from a place where it's all adversity, so what's a little more? What's a little bit more of people telling you what you can't do? What you're not going to do? What you've done? There's always a little bit more of that, but it's fine to me."
One thing's for sure -- Sherman did not expect the reactions to a few ill-chosen words to spiral out of control as they did over the last few days.
"I'm really surprised that it did [garner so much attention]. If I'd have known that it would blow up the way it did, I probably would have approached it differently. Just in terms of the way it took away from my teammates' great games. Kam Chancellor played a fantastic game and had an interception. Huge plays, and he played almost a perfect ballgame. Marshawn [Lynch] ran for ... freakin' Beast Mode ran for 100 yards-plus and had a great touchdown run. [Linebacker] Bobby [Wagner] had 15 tackles. So many people had great games, you'd think the stories would be about them. That's the only thing I feel regretful about."
Unquestionably (and perhaps somewhat surprisingly to those who believe that Sherman prefers to live life like a pro wrestling heel), he was far more surprised by the negative responses than by any level of subsequent support.
"The backlash surprised me, because I think the support came after the backlash. I was a little surprised, because we're talking about football here. A lot of people took it further than football. And I guess some people showed how far we've really come in this day and age. And it was kind of profound, what happened. Because I was on a football field showing passion. Maybe it was misdirected, maybe it was immature, maybe things could have been worded better. But this was on a football field -- I wasn't committing any crimes or doing anything illegal; I was showing passion after a football game. I didn't have time to sit there and contemplate, 'What am I gonna say?'
"But the people who were typing behind computer screens had all the time in the world to contemplate everything they were gonna say. They articulated exactly like they wanted to. Some of it, I'm sure they were pretty embarrassed about."
The backlash also included overtly racist reactions to his comments, his demeanor and his entire way of doing things. It's easy enough to search out the obvious words, so we'll spare you that particular ugliness. But Sherman was not spared. He saw it all, and the "thug" designations from those in the social media realm -- and some in the football media realm who should know better -- hit him with their full weight.
"I don't know if they'll ever give me any sympathy. If they label me a villain, that's what it is. Maybe my actions deserved that. I don't think I'm a villain. People always say, 'Don't judge a book by its cover,' and then they judge a book by its cover. They're judging me from the football field right after a game, and not who I am. Now, if I had ever gotten arrested, or committed all these crimes, or gotten suspended for crimes off the field and done all that, I could accept being a villain. But I've done nothing villainous.
"The only reason [the word 'thug'] bothers me is that it seems to be the accepted way of calling somebody the 'n-word' now, and they say, 'Oh, that's fine.' And that's where it kind of takes me aback. It's disappointing, because they know -- what's the definition of a thug, really? Can a guy on a football field, just talking to people on a football field, be a thug? Maybe I'm talking loudly and talking like I'm not supposed to, but there are hockey players ... there was a hockey game where they didn't even play hockey -- they just threw the puck aside and started fighting. I saw that, and I'm just saying, 'Aw man -- and I'm the thug? What's going on here?"
"So, I'm really disappointed in being called a thug."
Sherman's performances have their predecessors in all kinds of trash-talk. And it was just as much Larry Bird as it was Muhammad Ali back in the day. The former heavyweight champ was certainly on Sherman's mind as he reflected on what he said and what it all meant.
"I think he handled it by continuing to be himself -- he handled it head-on," Sherman said of Ali. "He didn't hide from it; he didn't run from it. He stood his ground, and his circumstances were incredibly hard. What he had to deal with was 100 times crazier than it is now. This is regular society, and that's one of the things I feel I may be missing out on.
"I feel like my game might be 20 years too late. Maybe I watched those guys too much. Maybe I studied Muhammad Ali, Deion Sanders, the Michael Irvins, the Jerry Rices, I studied the old-school game more than I studied the new-school game, and I play it that way. And it rubs a lot of people the wrong way. Giving a true speech after a game? That's old-school football. Playing press corner and sitting up there on every play is old-school football. I guess ... maybe I haven't adjusted to the times."
Sherman won't get a break from this thing he created, that then mushroomed far beyond his control. He's got this week in Seattle, and then a week before the Super Bowl begins in which his every utterance will be dissected mercilessly.