What was it the great president Teddy Roosevelt said about the critic?
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood. …”
It’s with this quote in mind I think about the uproar surrounding Sunday’s post-game antics of Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, when he attempted to confirm every ignorant stereotype some people have of black athletes.
You’ve probably seen the video. Fox News reporter Erin Andrews attempts to ask him one of those inane post-game questions, to which an adrenaline-drunk Sherman, who had only seconds earlier made the biggest play of his life as well as in the history of the Seattle Seahawks franchise, responded to Andrews’ query in somewhat of a questionable fashion:
“I’m the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like [the 49ers' Michael] Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get. Don’t you ever talk about me. [...] Don’t you open your mouth about the best or I’m gonna shut it for you real quick.”
As someone who the world of sports journalism has made a goal to continually misquote and mischaracterize, I can empathize with Sherman and his emotionally charged, energy-fueled rant. I have an opportunity right now to hop on board the propaganda bandwagon and fire a few “holier than thou” stones at Richard, but I know precisely how that feels. Glass houses, my friends, glass houses.
Of all the perfect individuals out there that seem to be pointing the dirty end of the stick at Richard, I’m one of the very few who can actually offer some real-world perspective on just what someone is going through in a situation/game like that. Imagine you’re driving down the interstate at 90 miles an hour and you suddenly find yourself in the midst of an 18-car pileup. This wreck is different, however, in that while it’s happening you have a unique ability to control your fate as well as the fate of those around you. You hit the brake at just the right time, accelerate precisely and avoid the embankment, turn and maneuver, the colors, sights and sounds are swirling around you. Then suddenly it’s all over and it was your actions that saved yourself and many others around you. You reflect for a few seconds and realize what you were just able to do. Adrenaline is pounding through you with such velocity it starts leaking out your eyes. Pumped up? Slightly! And then a reporter shoves a microphone in your face and says, “Hey, how ya feeling right now?” Really?
At that point one could not write a book the length of “War and Peace” and accurately describe what he is feeling. Sherman’s remarks were a bit inappropriate, but considering his left hand had just instantaneously fulfilled a childhood dream for himself and the rest of his teammates, and the successful defense of that play had come against an opposing player with whom he has been involved in a somewhat lengthy “trash talk” saga, trying to stay under emotional control during that brief instance is MUCH easier said than done. If you’ve never been in that situation – and the overwhelming majority of individuals on this planet never have and never will be – keep your stones in your pocket.
Sherman’s an intense guy and no stranger to portraying himself as a braggadocio (watch him here on ESPN’s “First Take” proclaim himself the best corner in the NFL multiple times), which has long been the tradition of defensive backs trying their best to replicate the Deion Sanders persona.
Perception is reality, however, and if you don’t think you’re the best, then nobody else will either. As a professional athlete you’re in that bunker every day taking grenades from all sides. Whether it be opposing players, media, fans, or some young punk trying to take your job and end your childhood dream, you have to be one mentally tough SOB. Every professional athlete is cocky, every one of them. Some guys (or gals) simply show it in different ways. Not every athlete will tell you straight up that “they are the best,” but they think it; at least they better.
Sure, it rubs a lot of people the wrong way, but in a profession where you are compensated based on how you perform on the field and not on how the public perceives you, well, there you go: Sherman might not be endorsing any products in the near future, appearing on some Subway commercial, but you can bet he’ll be performing at an extremely high level on Super Bowl Sunday against Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos knowing full-well that come contract time, he’ll be remembered for shutting down Eric Decker or Wes Welker more than some outburst on Fox.
What is important, though, is to look at how Sherman responded to the criticism from those millions of critics who went to social media to engage him during his 15 minutes of fame.
For those only clicking “reset” on YouTube to re-watch his rant over and over again, you need to read his column addressing said rant:
“It was loud, it was in the moment, and it was just a small part of the person I am.
“I don’t want to be a villain, because I’m not a villainous person. When I say I’m the best cornerback in football, it’s with a caveat: There isn’t a great defensive backfield in the NFL that doesn’t have a great front seven. Everything begins with pressure up front, and that’s what we get from our pass rushers every Sunday. To those who would call me a thug or worse because I show passion on a football field – don’t judge a person’s character by what they do between the lines. Judge a man by what he does off the field, what he does for his community, what he does for his family.
“But people find it easy to take shots on Twitter, and to use racial slurs and bullying language far worse than what you’ll see from me. It’s sad and somewhat unbelievable to me that the world is still this way, but it is. I can handle it.”
I happened to whole heartedly agree. The man is simply an athlete; a very well-educated athlete I might also add, attending Stanford University. I’m not sure about you, but that impresses me.
People will say and have said he’s acting like a typical street “thug” along with many adjectives that are much more “colorful.” He’s “supposed to be a role model” many will complain.
If adrenaline-laced trash talk is enough to get someone thrown off the role-model train, then we live in a much more superficial country than I have always perceived. Research the man’s life before you hurl your judgment. I did and actually became a bigger fan.
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