Three angry men

Public opinion court hears case of Richard Sherman

Scene opens in an austere, windowless white room, a small round table situated in the center. The JUDGE’s voice booms off-stage.

JUDGE: Jurors, I now come to your final instructions. The ultimate assessment of Seahawks cornerback and human megaphone Richard Sherman is a matter of gravest import to the Court of Sports Public Opinion, and you must deliberate honestly and thoughtfully. There are only three of you, since I need to get home soon to catch up on “Archer” and this court isn’t real, anyway. You will deliver your verdict via Twitter.

Three jurors enter the room and sit down. Aloe Blacc’s “The Man” plays on repeat in the background as they begin to discuss the case, or else is merely playing in each juror’s respective head.

JUROR ONE: I’ll begin so we can get this over with as quickly possible. To put it bluntly: Dick Sherman embodied the “me-first” culture that consumes sports with his conduct after Seattle’s 23-17 NFC Championship win against San Francisco. Sure, his deflection of a late Colin Kaepernick pass to set up Malcolm Smith’s game-winning interception was impressive. But as he has throughout his career, Sherman used his on-field skills to justify his self-obsessed, brutish behavior.

Notice his impulse in the post-game interview was not to thank his team or the people who helped him, but to taunt an opponent, gloat about his own worth and holler like a maniac in front of poor Erin Andrews. The guy possesses less class than a North Carolina student-athlete attends. He is guilty of disgracing the game’s integrity.

JUROR TWO: Wow, look what we have here: a take hot enough to melt a block of dry ice in 2.8 seconds. Unfortunately, your pompous argument collapses when infused with the teensiest bit of context. Nevermind that Sherman was commenting seconds after making the decisive play to send his team to the world championship, and that some people experience similarly visceral reactions when they win the peg game at Cracker Barrel. Or that Crabtree, according to a Fox Sports report and Sherman himself, accosted Sherman at a golf tournament last offseason and has belittled him in the media ever since.

Consider last night against the backdrop of what he has already accomplished. A native of Compton, he graduated from freakin’ Stanford with a degree in Communications, where he excelled under Jim Harbaugh before slipping to the fifth round in the 2011 draft. Two years later, thanks to his talent but more so to his superhuman work ethic, he is exactly what he described himself as to Andrews: the best cover corner in the league. Along the way, his columns on Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback website have offered nuanced, honest insight about the game. Sherman is everything we should be celebrating about sports: a gifted athlete and smart citizen with the persistence to make his dream a reality. Instead, you want to tar and feather him for having emotions.

JUROR ONE: So because this guy graduated from a good school and works hard, I’m obligated to support him? Even though he constantly provokes his opponents and picks fights with second-rate ESPN personalities, I should laud him because he has a sense of humor? He is a—

JUROR TWO: Thug?

JUROR ONE: Beg your pardon?

JUROR TWO: You were going to say thug. Neanderthal. Animal. The kinds of modifiers people have used these past few days that they would not apply to, say, Johnny Manziel. Along with other, even less polite terms. Catch my drift?

JUROR ONE: Look, I acknowledge that a few Internet trolls exacerbated the racial undercurrent here. But we can condemn Sherman’s behavior without being racist. Team sports matter because they crystallize larger truths about how to live life properly, and about how self-improvement is only worthwhile in the service of a larger cause. Peyton Manning understands that; Russell Wilson understands that; Champ Bailey, the best corner of the last decade, understands that. If his self-fawning farce of a column Monday afternoon is any indication, Sherman does not. Richard Sherman’s triumphs are all about padding the legacy of Richard Sherman, as the media pandering and trash-talking constantly remind us. We can and should denounce his actions.

JUROR TWO: That you referenced that Sherman column and left out some pretty important tidbits is illuminating. In that article, he credited his success as a corner to his front seven before criticizing Seahawks’ fans for pelting food at NaVorro Bowman and the scattered shrapnel that was once his right knee. He even apologized for the Crabtree incident later Monday evening, acknowledging that the hubbub had shifted focus from his team’s accomplishment. Alas, those facts contradict your “Sherman-is-a-punk” narrative since they suggest he may amount to more than a narcissistic, entitled black athlete. Not hard to read between—

JUROR THREE: Oh shut up, both of you. This is all ridiculous. We watched one of the most exciting championship games in recent memory — a game that literally made the Earth shake — and all we can talk about is a cornerback’s bad Triple-H impersonation. Instead of talking about Sherman’s tip, Kaepernick’s unfathomable jump pass, a touchdown that incited Skittles hail or any of the other unforgettable moments from that game, people would rather wallow in their own false outrage. We can’t even talk about Peyton Manning, the league’s best player, closing in on the best quarterbacking season ever. The correct verdict is no verdict, owing to triviality. Sherman seems like a cocky but all right dude who gave a ludicrous, funny postgame interview. Casting him either as a folk hero or a black-hatted villain is hyperbolic, and more than anything, it’s just annoying. Let’s talk about football.

JUROR ONE: This matters. If we can’t distinguish between right and wrong in the realm of sports, what’s the point?

JUROR TWO: I agree that it matters. No man of Sherman’s character and accomplishments should have to endure character assassination and racial abuse for letting his emotions briefly get the best of him. Sunday’s aftermath shows how far we have to go.

JUROR THREE: You know, not everything in sports has to signify something larger. Sometimes football is just football.

A long, awkward pause, punctuated by Blacc’s repeated assertions that he is the man.

JUROR ONE: Maybe calling Sherman a disgrace and self-absorbed is too strong, but I still don’t have to root for him.

JUROR TWO: Fair — I know he crosses the line sometimes. He still deserved better than the armchair moralizing of the past 48 hours.

JUROR THREE: And I admit this discussion is important, even if a little exasperating, and Sherman is a fascinating character. Hell, maybe this Sherman subplot will even make the game more fun. Suppose we can’t come to a final verdict, though?

JUROR ONE: Suppose not. I don’t see Henry Fonda walking through that door.

JUROR TWO: Perhaps no one can reach a verdict in this court.

JUROR THREE: Perhaps no one should try.


Published January 20, 2014 in Sports




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