The expectations that fans have of professional athletes have never been more unrealistic.
On one hand, we want them to be the most competitive and aggressive people in the world…on the field. Off of it, we want them to be humble, play for the love of the game, and never boast about their athletic prowess.
We want them to be honest in interviews. But not too honest. And not too cocky, either. They’re role models after all. We want them to have personalities, as long as those personalities lend themselves to heart-warming “My Wish” segments.
Richard Sherman is one of the best players in the game. On Sunday night, he made one of the best defensive plays of the season, and probably the decade. He was excited. All of the slights saying that he wouldn’t make it, all of the doubts that a fifth-round pick who changed positions could ever become one of the game’s best, he instantly proved wrong in front of the biggest audience of his career.
So Sherman did what probably every young athlete dreams of doing in his post-game interview. He went HAM on Erin Andrews.
The sports world, predictably, was appalled. There were the loaded code words that he was “uneducated” and “a thug.” There was, expectantly, intense racism.
And with the Super Bowl a full two weeks away, we already have our storyline. We have the Peyton-Manning-led Denver Broncos, led by one of the best ever. Manning is the current NFL posterboy and the hardest worker and most studious player in the league. He and his Broncos teammates represent the good guys.
They’ll face the Seahawks. Led by the mouthy, arrogant Sherman, they led the league in penalties, feature a defense full of PED users, and come up with cocky nicknames for themselves like “Legion of Boom.” They’re obviously playing the villain role.
It’s an easy storyline, penned unintentionally by Sherman. He explained his actions today in an MMQB article: “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.”
It’s easy to label Sherman’s actions as classless. I personally prefer the Tony Dungy approach of showing some level of humility in victory. I would’ve rather seen Sherman celebrate with his teammates than approach Michael Crabtree and put up choking signs.
But to use his actions as a way to paint the Seahawks as the villains of this Super Bowl is too easy a narrative. The Seahawks are led by one of the most humble and engaging players in the NFL in Russell Wilson. Sherman is a Stanford-educated player. He’s one of the most eloquent players in the game, and he’s not the best because of some unbelievable physical gifts. It’s because he studies just as much film as guys like Manning.
The Broncos aren’t exactly choirboys either. Wes Welker has been known to be a little mouthy too, and his former coach just called him out for taking out Aqib Talib on Sunday. Von Miller, the Broncos’ best defender who got hurt at the end of the season, missed the first six games of the season for reasons the Seahawks are familiar with: a PED suspension.
It’s not like trash talking is some new phenomenon. Larry Bird was one of the best trash-talkers ever, having famously asked his fellow three-point contest participants in 1986 which one of them was coming in second (and that’s a clean paraphrase of his actual quote).
Sherman was given a microphone and put in front of a camera when his adrenaline was at an all-time high. Former Kansas City Chief Priest Holmes, who was also one of the best at his position when he played, said to NBC Sports columnist Joe Posnanski: “I don’t see how those guys do it” of the players who had already spoken to the press. “If I had to talk right after the game, I’d say the craziest things you’ve ever heard.”
There really aren’t any good guys or bad guys in this game. It’s the best two teams in the NFL in a dream match-up, and it should be hyped as such. The game is interesting enough on it’s own without the manufactured good versus evil narrative. On February 2, we’ll get to see many of the best players in football. Just because one of those players isn’t afraid to say he’s the best, doesn’t make him a villain.
Follow Stefen Lovelace on Twitter @StefenLovelace.