The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 21, 2014

Stick a camera in an athlete's face, expect a rant

Tom Lindley
CNHI News Service

— Sports fans are hypocrites. They want a true glimpse of the action – or at least as close as they can get from their couch – but recoil in disgust when they see a side of the game they don’t like.

That’s what happened when most of the country met Richard Sherman, a cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, shortly after a pulsating NFC championship game victory against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday night.

Sherman used a 30-second or so interview with Fox’s sideline reporter Erin Andrews to make a few points: 1. He’s the best in the business at stopping receivers; 2. The 49ers’ Michael Crabtree is mediocre by NFL standards; and 3. Should they meet again, punches are likely to be exchanged.

So shocking was the exchange, it took a replay or two to soak it all in. What was that? What did he say?

In fairness, the scorching nature of Sherman’s response was worse than what was actually said. During the interview – or was it a tirade? - he seemed to bob and weave like a boxer as he started menacingly into the camera as if it where the enemy.

What was this dramatic scene all about?

What fans saw was an interview with an athlete in a moment charged with the fast flow of adrenaline. Ask questions at that moment, and expect an unfiltered response.

Sherman had just made a great play against Crabtree, a player who the Seattle corner felt had slighted him earlier in the year. As long as big-play athletes are greeted with a microphone moments after a game-winning play, expect the unexpected.

Some sporting events impose a 10-minute cooling off period before serving up players for interviews. That delay serves its purpose. Sherman could be a textbook example of the wisdom of that policy.

Later, in an organized meeting with reporters, he repeated the points of his brief TV interview in more measured tones. Most of the emotion was missing.

The third-year pro from Stanford is nobody’s fool. He’s articulate, thoughtful and insightful – at least off the field. On it, he's dogged, determined and not one to be intimidated. That’s just the way it is in a violent and physical sport.

He calls himself a “great player.” It could be that the assessment should also include cocky and confident.

It’s easy to form a false impression of Sherman by drawing upon his brief answer to a simple question, and some have dismissed him as a classless thug. But there’s more - much more.

He grew up in Compton, Calif., a city with a rough reputation. Yet the 6-foot-3, 195-pounder wasn’t content to just hang around a campus for a few years before getting a shot at the pros. He picked Stanford, a prestigious college by anyone’s assessment, setting his sights on getting a degree as well as winning games. He did both.

He was just a fifth-round pick in the NFL draft - not bad but far from assured a spot on the team. He quickly established himself in the pros as a guy with the right mindset and skills.

What Sherman has done now is to make himself a subject of much attention in the lead-up to the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos on Feb. 2. In one sense, his timing couldn’t have been much worse, as his next stop will be the media capital of the world. He could have been the match for Michael Crabtree, but that might not be the case when he arrives to play at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

If he survives the media reception, he must be ready to slow Denver's quarterback, Peyton Manning, who will be making his third start in a Super Bowl.

Sherman has shown he can play with the best on the field. On the sidelines, maybe he needs lessons from Erin Andrews on how to handle a post-game interview.

Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at tlindley@cnhi.com.