Right now, there may not be a more enigmatic figure in professional sports than Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. Sherman, while not unfamiliar to avid NFL fans, burst onto the national scene at the end of the NFC Championship Game, for two reasons. First, he made the game-saving play that officially sent his team to the Super Bowl, but then, just moments later, he gave us one of the most memorable on-field interviews in recent memory when he blasted his 49ers opponent, Michael Crabtree.
Sherman called Crabtree "a mediocre receiver" during his rant to Erin Andrews, live on FOX Sports. Sherman and Crabtree had beef dating back to last summer, when the two met at a charity event hosted by Larry Fitzgerald and almost brawled. Per Sherman's camp:
Sherman has been upset with Crabtree since last summer. Both attended Arizona star receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s charity event. While there, Sherman went to shake Crabtree’s hand, and Crabtree tried to start a fight, according to Sherman’s older brother, Branton.
“I’m going to make a play and embarrass him,” Richard Sherman vowed that day.
But of course, there are two sides to the story:
But a source who was at the Fitzgerald charity event—and who has no familial or professional relationship to Sherman or Crabtree—witnessed part of what happened and said it looked more like it was the other way around.
"The handshake part is legit," the source said, "but it was Sherman who tried to start the fight with Crabtree. I remember 'cause Sherman kept getting in his face and Crabtree was just laughing about it."
Regardless of who started the feud, Sherman certainly finished it with the Seahawks' victory. Crabtree later took to Twitter to call out Sherman, saying he isn't nearly as good as he claims and calling him "fake", but Sherman responded with a little bit of famous philosophy: "A lion doesn't concern himself with the opinion of sheep."
Immediately after the rant went viral, the debate about Sherman's character began to rage -- once again, there were two sides. First, the anti-Sherman camp that believed his rant was way out of line came out. Many people said that Sherman is a poor sport, a villain, a showboat, and most notably, a thug. After all, Sherman has a history of rage and arrogance on television -- he once appeared on ESPN's First Take as a guest but proceeded to blast host Skip Bayless while refusing to answer questions. He also has a history of feuding with former coach Jim Harbaugh, talking trash with NFL star Darrelle Revis, and he even got punched by an opponent (Washington Redskin Trent Williams) after a game last season after his continued jawing -- his critics certainly have enough material to work with.
Yet with that said, Sherman also has a number of good qualities and accomplishments to his name. Despite growing up in a bad area in Compton, California, in a very blue-collar family (his dad drives a garbage truck and won't accept money from him to this day), Sherman has been quite a success story. Not only is he now an NFL star on the verge of winning a championship, but he graduated second in his high school class, going on to college to earn a degree in communications from Stanford University. Furthermore, he runs his own charity: Blanket Coverage, the Richard Sherman Family Foundation. The charity seeks to provide underprivileged children with school supplies and clothes.
For these reasons, Sherman is very much bothered by being called a villain, and especially "a thug", which he believes has serious racial connotations. He has never been arrested, never been suspended (he once was suspended by the NFL for violating the drug policy but he was one of the rare players to win his appeal, and the suspension was overturned), and 98% of the time, stays out of the spotlight. He has penned two separate pieces for Sports Illustrated in the two weeks following the NFC Championship Game to explain and defend his actions, and ultimately, he has apologized for the way he addressed Crabtree, even if he doesn't regret what he actually said. He was also fined by the NFL nearly $8000 for his antics.
If there's one thing that the rant certainly accomplished though, it has gained Sherman massive amounts of publicity and made him more of a brand than ever -- even President Obama has chimed in on the controversial corner:
"My sense is he's taking a page out of Muhammad Ali's playbook, which is, I think he said explicitly, this is a good way to get attention. In fact, Ali said he got his schtick from wrestlers he used to watch. I think it's part of the tradition 'let me get some attention.' Obviously, it's worked. I suspect he's going to have a lot more endorsement contracts and more jersey sales after that."
Sherman has reportedly gained over $5 million in exposure following the incident due to his numerous endorsements, most notably with the brand Beats By Dre -- in fact, Sherman gave each of his teammates custom diamond-encrusted, Super Bowl-themed Beats valued at over $25,000 each, all thanks to the attention he earned himself in 15 short seconds.
Now, the story on Sherman is still unfinished -- he has many years of NFL playing time ahead of him, and he can still determine his ultimate legacy by his actions. Tonight in Super Bowl XLVIII, all eyes will be on Sherman, and it will be fun to see how he responds.