By Jason Keidel
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Ever notice everyone says they’re old school?
And why not? It sounds cool. “I’m old school.” It instantly imbues you with an apparent sense of history and an aura of endless wisdom.
But what is it, really? Usually someone who espouses the old-world ethos of yesteryear, the hard-hat ethic of DiMaggio, who ran the bases with his classic, head-down humility, treating each game as though someone were watching him for the first time.
Old school speaks to modesty. It speaks to courtesy. It speaks to a team-first approach to sports.
So suffice it to say Richard Sherman is not old school.
With Sherman, as is the wont of wideouts and the men who cover them, the needle always points inward. After his Seattle Seahawks defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game, Sherman broke into a semantic selfie, waxing amorously about himself to Erin Andrews, who seemed startled by Sherman’s force and volume. Since then, Sherman has become the Super Bowl, if not the worldwide, topic du jour.
In the days since his rant, Sherman has moonwalked from his outburst. Well, kinda. He didn’t apologize for humiliating Michael Crabtree, but insisted he was sorry for deflecting from his team.
Sherman proved to be more profound than a sound bite. He flexed his lexicon this week, going polysyllabic on the press, with gems like “villainous” and “oxymoron” – proving he studied more than Physical Education at Stanford. For those few, ephemeral moments he was lucid, likable, and downright charming.
So who is Richard Sherman?
: a violent criminal
Full Definition of THUG
: a brutal ruffian or assassin : gangster, tough
So, suffice it to say, RIchard Sherman is not a thug.
His sarcastic salutation to Crabtree in the end zone seconds after Seattle secured the victory was in rather poor taste. Nor is it the first time Sherman has irked his opponent when there was no advantage in doing so.
According to his supporters, the ones who actually know him, he is the classic NFL paradox – a chirping jerk whose gratuitous self-congratulations seem to please only himself; and off the field a thoughtful, erudite young man whose real life is swathed in charity and respect for his peers.
In a real sense, Sherman is the emblem of the American Dream. His journey from the slum to the Super Bowl is well archived. The odds are stacked against someone climbing from Compton to Stanford to the NFL. He’s not a product of handouts, quotas, or any other government mandates. Richard Sherman earned his spot in the sun. He has a special talent and the monolithic focus needed to exploit his athletic splendor.
And, frankly, his colossal bombast isn’t all that offensive. While there’s nothing comforting about yet another cornerback stroking himself on the dais, Sherman does have some charm to him.
To listen to his former coach at Stanford, David Shaw – who was Jim Harbaugh’s assistant coach when Sherman played for the Cardinal – Sherman’s epic narcissism is a form of fuel, a decibel-drenched meditation and motivation. It’s not new, original, or especially creative. He’s only the 50th defensive back to assert his singular greatness. But who is really harmed by his hubris?
Where Sherman loses some of us is when he declares the criticism of his antics are far less superficial and way more nefarious. Sherman said that when people call him a “thug” they are really masking more iniquitous feelings. According to Sherman, “thug” is the nouveaux N-Word.
Sure, there are people uncomfortable with what they see as the generic black athlete. It’s an inaccurate and ignorant stereotype. Corn rows and tattoos – the bigot’s template view of the minority athlete – just make the more ignorant slice of America queasy. Sadly, there are people uneasy about anyone who doesn’t look like they do.
But to spout off maniacally after the biggest game of your career – a gaseous monologue Sherman himself admitted was wrong – and to build a justifiable reputation for me-first mantras over the last few years naturally spawns a more cynical audience until he embraces a more selfless persona.
It’s dangerous to cry racism every time someone doesn’t like you. And it deflects from more authentic cases of bigotry, which, tragically, still thrives in our society. Someone of Sherman’s experience and intelligence surely knows that, which makes his misguided accusations even more disappointing.
Sherman pointed to hockey games that mutate into cage matches as an example of more thug-like conduct. Keep it right there, Richard. Use your considerable name and game on the gridiron the same way you evidently do off the field. Leave the political tangents to the blowhards on CNN, FOX, MSNBC, and the other alphabet-soup cable stops now jousting for the fringe folks on either side of the aisle.
If you can see through the toxic verbal clouds and look objectively at Richard Sherman, you’ll find an engaging, articulate young man on the brink of personal bliss and professional stardom. Maybe that will give him fewer reasons to poison his public image.
It’s not a crime to not be a bad guy, Richard Sherman. So stop trying so hard to look like one.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.
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