The Real Issue With Richard Sherman

NFL: St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks

 

If America’s sportswriters have made one thing abundantly clear this past week it is that Richard Sherman is not a thug. Sure, he may have gone off on exuberant tirade after the NFC Championship Game, trashing 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree and every cornerback in the NFL for good measure, but this sort of thing happens when you interview a player just minutes after a game. A successful football player needs to be intense, energetic, and even intimidating, and the interview caught Sherman still in that state of mind. After all, he had just saved the game by denying a touchdown to Crabtree, the very player who had been taunting him all day, so why shouldn’t he have been psyched? Maybe Sherman was a little loud and a little extreme, but that certainly does not make him a thug.

Sportswriters interject that, in fact, Sherman is a well-spoken, intelligent Stanford graduate, as evidenced by his impressive high school and college grades and a host of eloquent interviews he has delivered in the past week. He has never been arrested, has never cursed in an interview, and has even established himself as a philanthropist.

Some reporters, like Isaac Saul of the Huffington Post, even assert that Sherman is “one of the best kinds of sports stories there is in the world: the rise from the bottom, the profound destruction of obstacles, the honest success story built by a foundation of hard work and loving parents.”[1] Saul details Sherman’s incredible journey from an impoverished and crime-ridden neighborhood in Compton California, on to Stanford and then the NFL. With hard work and a determination to distance himself from his neighborhood’s self-destructive street culture, Sherman has succeeded both on the field and in the classroom, achieving his highest goals.

And I cannot disagree that Sherman possesses a rare mix of talent and a great work ethic. Though reporters may overstate his intelligence at times (for example never mentioning that his 1400 on the SAT’s was out of 2400, not 1600), he is undoubtedly smart, well spoken, and driven, in addition to being a great football player. He is no thug, by any means.

However, I think these reports are missing the point: surely his work ethic, intelligence and football skill are commendable and are good examples for America’s youth, but what of his character? Richard Sherman is undeniably an outwardly arrogant man, and I do not take that only from his post-game assertion that he is “the best corner in the game.” He once insisted to sports reporter Skip Bayless, “I am better at life than you.” [2] Is this the type of behavior that we want our kids to imitate? Is this arrogance the proper culmination of Richard Sherman’s incredible story?

To answer these questions, I think we first need to ask ourselves whether there is something inherently wrong with arrogance. Is it just that “we’re still a country that can’t accept someone if they’re a little louder, [or] a little prouder…[than] the people we surround ourselves with,” as Saul insists, or is there a reason for us to discourage “loud,” “proud” or in Sherman’s case, overtly arrogant behaviors?

I would argue that built into the modus operandi of arrogant people is the conception that they have been the sole architects of their own success. Even if Sherman did thank his parents, coaches or teammates for the opportunities they provided him, the fact that he insisted to Skip Bayless “I am better at life than you” indicates that he takes full credit for his life achievements. He believes he has somehow performed better in his life than others, and that has led to his success.

But this idea that Sherman’s success has been the result of only individual agency and hard work is completely ludicrous. Starting with the most fundamental, Sherman was undoubtedly born with inherent gifts, both for football and academics. Granted, left undeveloped these gifts would mean very little, but the opportunities to further these abilities come largely as a result of circumstances. He cannot even fully credit himself for his work ethic, as this is something partly instilled by parents and partly a result of inherent dispositions. In fact, there is almost nothing in his life that he can directly credit solely to himself, but yet he insists that he is somehow “better at life” than another. Not only is this foolish, but it is an insult to all of those who helped him achieve his goals, including parents, coaches and friends.

More importantly though, Sherman’s choice to flaunt his successes is a slap in the face to those that do not have the same abilities or opportunities that he had—by dangling in front of their eyes something that they may never be able to achieve, he says, “I did this all by myself. If you can’t, it must be through some fault of your own.” Why does someone who has everything, like Richard Sherman, need to flaunt it in the faces of those who don’t and never will?

Some may argue that to entice people with an ambitious goal, even one that they cannot achieve, is the best way to motivate them to work hard and pursue their goals, and I do not deny this in the least. However, an example of success without self-promotion is equally as motivational, and avoids the message that others are, through their own fault, inferior. To achieve a great goal and then assert that you are better than others because they did not achieve it, as Richard Sherman does, is the ultimate disparagement.

So is the current stage of Richard Sherman’s story really one that we want kids pursuing? Certainly it is better than failing to escape the streets, not graduating high school, or ending up in jail or worse, but this is all possible without constantly advertising your successes. Self-confidence may be an important component of achievement, but there is a big difference between believing you can achieve something and talking about how good you are all the time. Outward arrogance is simply presumptuous, insulting, and hurtful, and can preclude the formation of meaningful relationships. Therefore, Richard Sherman may not be quite as constructive a role model as Saul makes him out to be.

Richard Sherman’s arrogance may not be entirely his fault, however. After all, the United States treats its professional athletes like gods, paying them astronomical sums of money and glorifying their every move. I think that Saul is right that Richard Sherman teaches us something about America, but it is not that we have an aversion to people being boisterous or prideful. Rather, it is that we feed this sense of pride in celebrities, and bloat it to the point where it exceeds the containment of their own minds. We build our athletes up so high that they can no longer keep their arrogance to themselves, because they are given signs every day that they are just that good at their sport, and as Richard Sherman sees it, their lives. It isn’t Richard Sherman’s fault for asserting his superiority, but rather ours for convincing him every day that he is superior.



[1] “What Richard Sherman Taught Us About America,” Isaac Saul, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/isaac-saul/what-richard-sherman-taught-us_b_4631980.html.

[2] “Richard Sherman gets snarky with Skip Bayless, provides a marginal reason to watch ‘First Take,’” Doug Farrar, http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nfl-shutdown-corner/richard-sherman-gets-snarky-skip-bayless-provides-marginal-234849310–nfl.html.

 

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