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What’s Eating Richard Sherman?

A look back at a tumultuous season of coach-critiquing and press boycotting in an effort to better understand the Seahawks star cornerback, who finds himself one win away from the NFC championship game

(AP Images/Ringer illustration)
(AP Images/Ringer illustration)

If you rewatch the footage of the Seahawks sideline reacting to that fateful play at the end of Super Bowl XLIX, you can pinpoint the exact moment that something broke inside Richard Sherman. He probably still sees that image of Malcolm Butler breaking on Ricardo Lockette like a breaching great white shark everywhere he looks — in mirrors and streetlamps and storefronts; in every piece of football-shaped bread. At the time, that play was the height of sporting absurdity — long before the Warriors blowing a 3–1 lead, Leicester winning the Premier League, or the Cubs winning the World Series. The Seahawks had Marshawn Lynch; the same Marshawn Lynch who swatted Tracy Porter down like a biplane. This Marshawn Lynch:

So you can understand why, during a December 2016 game between the Seahawks and the Rams — one which Seattle won 24–3 (remember that for later) — Sherman blew up at offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. This was about halfway through the third quarter, and Seattle was up only 10–3 when Bevell and head coach Pete Carroll decided to run a fade route on first-and-goal. The fade route gets a bad rap because it is a traditionally bad thing that fails more often than it succeeds. It’s the kitchen sink for a coaching staff that’s fresh out of ideas and is content to just hang it up there and see what happens.

It’s not really so bad, though — not when the intended target is Jimmy Graham, who has a million-inch vertical. Still, the pass was nearly picked off and luckily fell incomplete. Sherman was pissed.

After that Rams game, which again, the Seahawks won 24–3, he almost — almost — said as much: “I’d rather do what most teams would do, making a conscientious decision to run the ball. … Yeah, I was letting [Carroll] know. We’ve already seen how that goes.”

He was sure that he knew better than Carroll and Bevell then, just like he was sure he knew better than defensive coordinator Kris Richard in October. That blowup came after giving up a touchdown to Julio Jones, on the way to getting outscored 21–0 after holding a 17–3 lead going into the half. Seattle eventually won that game, too, 26–24.

The through line here is that each trespass against the hallowed and much ballyhooed locker room culture — specifically airing out your coach in public — is followed by a favorable result. Seattle finished 10–5–1 and atop the NFC West, and even now, Carroll, who’s also seen one of his receivers flip off one of his coordinators after a touchdown, seems mostly fine with these displays of what you and I would call disrespect so long as he gets those favorable results. Speaking about Sherman’s local-media boycott last week — which came about after Sherman felt he was being asked one too many questions about what he and Bevell talked about on the sideline — Carroll basically said: Well, that’s Richard for you.

“Well, he’s got a mind of his own and he’s got a real thought about it. Whenever trying to protect the integrity of what you say as you get represented, that’s an important thing and I know Richard’s tuned into that. … He’s very bright. I support Richard always. I have supported for a long time and I continue to. I think he’s a brilliant kid — doesn’t mean that you guys are always going to see eye to eye on stuff.”

If you slice through the wedges of word salad, he’s talking about Sherman being upset about what he says and does being taken out of context, and then blended together to paint an inimical public persona of the Seahawks defensive back. Which probably explains why Sherman threatened to ruin longtime Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter and current radio dude Jim Moore’s career over some tautological questions about experience and judgement in which Moore challenged whether or not Sherman knew the game better than his coaches. Sherman said he would take Moore’s press credential, which, you know, Sherman can’t do. He was later made to apologize for letting it “get personal.”

Consider, for a moment, the life of a professional athlete in season. They are basically grinding their teeth on a leather strap for six months, constantly thinking about big and small adjustments to their game, to the point where it keeps them up nights. Then think about being a professional cornerback. Save for the few interceptions you grab, no one remembers that the one time you were thrown to, the play was broken up. But everyone can remember, with precision, the times you got your lunch money taken. Or the cheap late hit that turned out to just be an unfortunate byproduct of your superior understanding of the rulebook. To say nothing of playing for a league that doesn’t much care about you, all while weathering the usual racist bullshit that comes with being nonwhite and good at stuff.

Imagine being put upon both on the field and off it for months on end. And then imagine having to watch your own offense get cute on the goal line, in just about the same spot they once gambled away your Super Bowl even though a man who had once literally cracked another man’s helmet was standing right there. You too might voice your objections.

Now, consider the inherent uselessness of postgame sound bites.

It seems that sports media coverage is veering more toward analysis or “debate,” while throwing up its hands at access. Aside from the rare occasions in which Kevin Durant speaks frankly about OKC’s mission to “control the story” or DeMarcus Cousins talks cash money shit to all the local beat reporters, athlete interviews are fruitless. Postgame interviews are like fax machines: They are largely frustrating, kind of outmoded, and make everyone’s jobs harder, and the only real upside they have is the potential to bear out really funny stories in the fullness of time. That said, they are something that every player is bound by their CBA to do, which is why Sherman’s media boycott lasted a total of about five days.

Being required to do something that’s only paid attention to when it’s funny or when it upsets someone seems pretty dumb. The same way fussing over locker room turmoil when a team is headed to a divisional championship also seems pretty dumb; the same way giving people extremely visible and public acts of insubordination to fuss over seems pretty dumb. Throwing the ball on the 1 also seems pretty dumb, in the same way that kicking the greatest living basketball player in full view of everyone to earn yourself a suspension, creating one of the largest inflection points in sports history, seems pretty dumb.

As does spending the bulk of a media availability talking to the media about whether or not you will be talking to the media. Watching your coaches steer the ship with their eyes closed would be annoying, too. As would dealing with a commissioner you feel doesn’t care about you, and with fans you feel don’t appreciate you as you are. Listen: Like a lot of people that can’t count him among their team’s secondary, I don’t even like Richard Sherman. But I think I understand him.