MIAMI — A person couldn’t have looked more comfortable staring out at a sea of strangers.
Richard Sherman flipped his camera phone and took a picture at all the lenses pointed back in his face and smiled. Dressed in a white sweat suit and black Jordan sneakers, he settled in for an hour of questions shouted in his general direction on every subject under the sun including, but not limited to, Mexico, Japanese cooking, fatherhood, the size of an incision on a typical Achilles injury and the attributes of highly successful people.
For some players, the Super Bowl’s opening night is cringeworthy; roving, sweaty herds of people—some in costume—encircling them and their teammates like bad guys in a spaghetti western (in this case, armed only with bad, repetitive questions in several different languages). Getting through this first night may be the most arduous part of the entire week.
The same cannot be said about Sherman, who thrives in moments like this—especially here, especially now. He is back in the NFL’s championship game at age 31, now a player who seems miles away from the clamorous late-round draft pick who hijacked a microphone after the 2013 NFC Conference Championship Game and dared any quarterback to throw in his direction again while simultaneously demanding our collective attention. In those six years, he has lived a football lifetime. He watched a potential dynasty shatter. He entered free agency without an agency. For a moment, it seemed San Francisco would be a quiet place for the league’s loudest player to disappear.
Nights like Monday are his chance to remind everyone that, as usual, he was right and you were wrong. And not just you. The team that let him go. The people who thought his days of All Pro legitimacy were behind him. His former collegiate coach at Stanford who became a former coach of the 49ers, who, in some strange, circuitous way, still fuels him.
“[49ers CEO] Jed York tells a funny story about when I was coming out in the draft. The 49ers had a higher draft grade on me than most teams and Jim Harbaugh came and took me off the draft board. Jed was pretty upset about that. Honestly, I wanted to put [Harbaugh] out of the league, and once I got that done, I had no animosity toward the 49ers or the organization.”
Seeing him on this stage, on his riser at Super Bowl Opening Night, was a glimpse into a brighter future. As he toes the line between playing days and whatever myriad post-career options lay at his doorstep, between his role in the 49ers’ locker room amid a Super Bowl run and the NFLPA executive committee amid new collective bargaining agreement negotiations, it seems some of this boundless energy will be used long after he is done playing to fix the many grievances he has developed along the way. Minor slights and digs will be replaced by societal issues that are reflected in the malfunctioning underbelly of the NFL. Other things that he believes he’s right about and you are wrong about.
Like a disturbing lack of minority representation in the head coaching ranks…
“I think it’s weird when they say minority coaching candidates aren’t getting jobs because we’re majority African American and minority people. These coaches would be among our majority. And for these coaches not to get jobs? Minority players in our league are getting jobs. Honestly, there’s 30% white players and not that race is a huge issue, but it doesn’t look the same.
“Majority white coaches. Majority black league. It’s odd, and I think it needs to be addressed, and I think guys need to take a stand and address it. But players are being asked about it, and we have nothing to do with it. Sure, we would love more black coaches to get opportunities, but we don’t call those shots. You have to ask the owners. There’s 32 of them who call those shots, and I don’t think they get enough pressure.”
And like the way some players sleepwalk through their financial education, which could lead to a disastrous post-career life…
“I wanted to wake players up and have them take more control, more accountability over their future,” he said. “It continues to snowball. If you’re letting people negotiate your contract without any know, you’re letting people manage your money without any know, and you let people run your life without any know and it doesn’t make for a constructive lifestyle. People waking up and taking control over their lives, it will carry over. They’ll be aware of where their money is going.”
Sherman happily relayed the anecdotal tales of times he’s talked to 49ers fans who openly admitted that they hated him while he played for the Seahawks but love him now. It’s a microcosm of his narrative; how people were either too quick to judge him or didn’t have the proper foresight. In that way, Sherman can be a difficult pill to swallow for those who think a message is best delivered deftly, or that we should all take the high road in victory.
But somewhere along the line, Sherman figured out that this wasn’t his reality. It wasn’t how he was meant to play the game. He got comfortable in front of the masses and started telling us what he thought we needed to hear instead of what we all wanted to.
It’s good now for a 49ers team that has benefitted from Sherman’s perpetual fear of letting someone else get the best of him. It’s terrifying for the NFL in the future if we’re to believe that, once Sherman is done playing, he’ll still have something to say and the drive to do something about it.
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