Joe Gieringer, Not Your Average Joe

It has been more than a week since Richard Sherman polarized millions of viewers in the wake of an 18-second rant that instantaneously produced headlines, headaches and hatred from just about every corner of the sports world. Despite a purposefully pedestrian press conference Sunday that quieted down some of the overzealous media hype, the self-proclaimed best cornerback in the NFL is still the center of attention heading into the Super Bowl.

But before we talk about what Sherman is, let’s clarify what he isn’t.

Richard Sherman isn’t an idiot.He graduated second in his class in high school. He is a Stanford alumnus and a student of the game, but we already knew that. What many people don’t realize is that his post-NFC Championship interview, however off-the-cuff it might have been, was most likely premeditated. In many ways, Sherman is like a modern day, football-playing P.T. Barnum. He understands the system and how to get maximum exposure. Whether it’s his shootout with loudmouth Skip Bayless in the spring of 2013, his Twitter feud with Darrelle Revis last year or his most recent bout with Michael Crabtree, Sherman is carefully crafting a loudmouth image. Like Barnum, he wishes to “line his own coffers.” The only difference here is where Barnum was primarily concerned with money, Sherman deals in brand recognition.

Richard Sherman isn’t a thug.The racial and socioeconomic libel that was leaping off Twitter in the hours following the NFC Championship was embarrassing. A quick background check will reveal that Sherman grew up in Compton, escaping the gang scene by looking up to his parents, who helped guide neighborhood children. His upbringing paved the way for his eventual success later in life. Now, Sherman gives back to the community and, like many NFL players, donates money and time to those less fortunate, never forgetting where he comes from.

What then, is Sherman?

Richard Sherman is (probably) the best corner in the league.He rarely gets torched, and with eight interceptions and a pick six in each of the past two seasons, his dominance is startlingly clear. I could go on, but you get the idea. The stats don’t lie.

Richard Sherman is an arrogant, egotistical individual.If football stats provide a framing mechanism to back up his claim as the best, then his interviews can serve to do the same for his persona. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate trash talking as much as the next guy. If you haven’t played sports at a competitive level then it’s hard to comprehend, but as a hockey and lacrosse goalie, I had some of the worst insults I could imagine hurled at me… and I loved it. It’s an indelible part of the game that functions as a catalyst for some of today’s great performers. But what happens when trash talk is carried outside of the arena? Richard Sherman is one of the primary examples. Whether it was his quip about Crabtree and his “friendly” offering of a good game after his tip led to the NFC Championship-ending interception, Sherman’s media coverage hasn’t been too positive. Add in the “I’m better than you at life” insults hurled at Skip Bayless (although if any sports “analyst” deserved that treatment, it was Bayless) and his Twitter tantrum, it’s apparent that Sherman has no qualms with being the villain. Even the NFL agrees, as it fined him $7,875 for taunting.

So why is this such an issue? It seems like the past week has been dominated by a black and white situation, where two factions have dug in deep over a no-man’s land of modesty. My initial, post-game reaction to his comments were entirely dismissive. I didn’t know much about Sherman’s background, but I immediately condemned his actions and commentary about Crabtree being a subpar receiver, and telling the world that he’ll shut everyone’s mouths real quick.

You see, Sherman’s shameless self-promotion brought to light a larger issue for me. It has nothing to do with racism or any controversial topic that has spanned decades and still persists. It didn’t make me think of skill, and who’s who in the pecking order of the NFL. It made me question the spirit of the game, and the honor and integrity (or in this case, lack thereof) with which professionals play the sport they love.

While Americans were bitterly embattled, making wild accusations or feverishly defending a man they likely knew nothing about, I simply questioned why we as fans are so quick to condone behavior that’s unbecoming of a highly paid and even more highly regarded professional. If I had kids, I would not want them emulating that kind of behavior. I’ll tell you right now, if I was in Sherman’s position and made those comments, my mom would have jumped out of her seat, sped down the stadium stairs to field level and kicked my ass in front of Erin Andrews.

I have no problem with Richard Sherman as a person. From all accounts, he seems like a decent man who loves what he does, and remembers where he came from. What I do have a problem with is how he players like him have seemingly forgotten that it is possible to win as a gracious and humble competitor. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I was always taught to let my actions on the field speak for themselves. Sherman is probably the best corner in the business, but he doesn’t need to incite the ire of fans like myself by constantly reminding us of that after the final whistle blows. Is the media to blame for some of this situation? Sure, but I would hope Sherman isn’t so insecure as to believe that Skip Bayless and company are brainwashing the American public into thinking he isn’t a contender for best in the league.

Richard Sherman deserves to be lauded for his performance on the field, and he shouldn’t have to tolerate insensitive and ungrounded remarks about his race, intelligence or person. But let’s not forget those outliers don’t excuse the fact that his attitude over the last two seasons has been less than inspirational. C.S. Lewis once said “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” It’s up to us to decide if arrogance and chest pounding is a prerequisite for greatness.