04:58 - Source: CNN
Sherman: Rant reaction 'mind-boggling'

Story highlights

Richard Sherman's post-game rant drew criticism online, in sports world

The interview comes at a time when he's growing more popular in other ways

Sherman says it's wrong to call him -- a Stanford graduate from Compton -- a thug

He says he'll learn from his mistakes, but will stay true to himself

CNN —  

In the football world, Richard Sherman had a reputation as an elite, shutdown cornerback who will talk trash then back it up.

Now, thanks to a few post-game words to a TV reporter, he’s got a bigger reputation in front of an even bigger audience – and not all of it good.

His rise to newfound fame, or infamy, came moments after he made a pivotal play to break up an end zone-bound pass intended for San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree. With that, Sherman’s Seattle Seahawks could stamp their ticket to Super Bowl XLVIII. But still, when Fox Sports reporter Erin Andrews caught up with him on the field, he was seething.

“Don’t you open your mouth about the best,” he barked about Crabtree, “or I’m going to shut it for you real quick.”

A player boasting about his performance and belittling his opponent is par for the course in pro sports. But some thought Sherman’s post-game smack talk – angrily putting down his defeated foe – smacked of poor sportsmanship. Others thought a whole lot worse than that, with tweets belittling him as a gorilla, an ape and a thug from the ghetto.

“Richard Sherman deserves to get shot in the (expletive) head. Disrespectful (N-word),” said one, expressing a common refrain.

Standing alone on an island, trying to defend against something he doesn’t know is coming is part of any cornerback’s job description. Still, even a star like Sherman admitted being surprised about the heated, widespread reaction to his remarks.

Not that the uproar will change him, he insists. In fact, having more naysayers may motivate him more.

Speaking Wednesday with reporters in Seattle, Sherman said: “Things like that happen and you deal with the consequences, you deal with people’s opinions. I have come from a place where it’s all adversity, so what’s a little bit more? What’s a little bit more of people telling what you can’t do?

“… But, you know, it’s fine with me.”

If nothing else, this episode has been enlightening, putting a defensive player from a team tucked in one corner of the United States under an intense spotlight. Here are a few things that we’ve learned about Sherman because of this hullabaloo:

1) He is less popular than ever

The vitriol spewed almost immediately. Social media does that, giving anyone with an Internet-enabled device the chance to give their instant, unvarnished opinion.

And, boy, they did.

Many of them didn’t know Richard Sherman from Bashar al-Assad before this weekend, but nonetheless vented based on what they had just heard on TV. Classless was one of the relatively kinder takes on his comments.

Then there was the media echo chamber. Scores of sports commentators on TV, on radio and in print had a field day, including many who skewered Sherman as a bad apple who couldn’t let his play speak for itself, but instead had to denigrate his opponents. And news outlets – like CNN, which scored an exclusive interview with him – got in on the debate.

Sherman admits now it was “immature” to attack Crabtree and, in so doing, take the spotlight off his teammates and put it on him. But the viral and resoundingly negative reaction to what he said, in the heat of the moment, caught him off-guard.

“Things could have been worded better, but this was on a football field,” Sherman said. “I wasn’t committing any crimes, doing anything illegal. I was showing passion after a football game.”

That is this defender’s defense. Still, there’s no doubt that there are thousands, if not millions, more people who have a more negative opinion today of Richard Sherman that they did a week ago.

2) He is more popular than ever

At the same time, it’s also probably true more people now have a positive opinion of him.

Diehard Seahawks fans – who know Sherman beyond that one soundbite – are sticking by him. Hundreds lined up Tuesday night at a Mill Creek, Washington, store for an autograph signing by a man several called their favorite player.

“I love Richard Sherman,” fan Susan Bolles told CNN affiliate KCPQ. “We see him on the news and signing things for kids, doing charitable work, showing up at schools unannounced. We see the sides of Richard that no one sees.”

Yet nationally, his increased number of fans stems largely to simple math: there are more people who know Sherman, and what he is all about, now than ever before.

Among them are those who admire his honesty and bravado. Some of them are businessmen who like how he made an impression with his personality as well as his play.

“I talked to brand managers this week, and they are fired up,” said Jamie Fritz, who manages Sherman’s marketing deals. “They say this is real, this is true. In a world that’s so full of media training and everybody is so politically correct, we finally have a player who is willing to speak his mind and wear his emotions on his shoulder.”

Speaking to his growing popularity, Sherman’s number of Twitter followers has skyrocketed by the hundreds of thousands since the NFC championship game, with more than 650,000 now tracking him. Many people – family, friends, fellow players, even baseball legend Hank Aaron – reached out to him to express their support.

ESPN’s Darren Rovell reports that his jersey ranks 10th of all football players from April 1, 2013, through last week on NFLshop.com; the fact he doesn’t even rank in the top 25 between April 1 and September 30, 2013 on that official NFL website suggests many more people have been clamoring for his jersey of late.

Will this attention – even it’s derived from an interview panned by many – translate to more money-making opportunities? Fritz told CNN’s Don Lemon that he’s gotten “a few more” calls about possible marketing deals for Sherman since Sunday.

Marc Lamont Hill, a CNN commentator and Columbia University professor, said that Sherman “deserves all the marketing money that he gets.” But he worried that he will be made into a caricature, born out of the “anxieties” seen in the Twitter venom directed at him.

“My concern is … when they use this image, will they see him as an extraordinary athlete who has a knack for talking trash,” Hill said, “or will they frame him as another angry, violent, disrespectful athlete.”

3) He is complicated

The fact is, Richard Sherman is more than just an extraordinary athlete. He’s an extraordinary athlete with an extraordinary story, one that helped shape into the man and the player – brashness and all – that he is today.

Sherman grew up in Watts and then moved to Compton, two of the toughest neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Crime, much of it related to gangs, was rampant. So, too, was poverty, with many people not knowing where their next meal was coming from.

Amid such destitution, Sherman worked hard in the classroom as well as on the football field.

He made it out and to Stanford, becoming as he wrote “the first student-athlete from Compton” to attend that top-ranked university.

“I strive to always challenge myself to the fullest, whether it be on the football field, weight room, or classroom, and I knew Stanford would give me a great opportunity to challenge myself in every aspect of life,” Sherman wrote on his website. “I wanted to grow as a student, player and as a person.”

Upon his graduation, the Seahawks selected Sherman in the fifth round – the 154th selection overall – of the 2011 draft.

Normally, such a late-round selection is iffy to even make the team. But Sherman quickly established himself as one of the linchpins of Seattle’s smothering defense, earning first-team All-Pro in two of his three seasons. He also established himself in Washington state as a popular, warm and generous individual.

In the NFL, his ability to shut down receivers may have been matched only by his penchant for trash talk. Several sports publications, like RantSports.com, ranked him high in that category among all players in the league.

Sherman also found time to become a regular contributor writing for MMQB.com, which like CNN is a division of Time Warner.

In recent days, numerous friends, coaches and others he knows have remarked on Sherman’s brainpower. Seahawks quarterback Russell Willson, for instance, described him as “one of the most intelligent people you will ever meet” and “a great teammate” with “tremendous character.”

Still, while he’s heartened by such compliments from those who know him, Sherman is bothered when people pick out glimpses of his life or his on-field antics, then jump to conclusions.

“I don’t think I’m a villain,” he told reporters. “People always say the old cliche don’t judge a book by its cover, but they’re judging a book by its cover. They’re judging me …on the football field during a game, right after a game, and they are not judging me off of who I am.”

Sherman adds, “Now if I had got arrested 10 times or committed all these crimes or got suspended for fighting off the field and done all that, then I can accept being a villain.

“But I’ve done nothing villainous.”

4) He’d rather be a role model than a thug

In the wake of his post-game rant, Sherman said one of his biggest disappointments is how – whether it’s because of his mouth or his inner-city roots or both – people have labeled him “a thug.”

“You hear Compton, you hear Watts, you hear cities like that, you just think thug, he’s a gangster, he’s this, that and the other,” he said Wednesday. “And then you hear Stanford and they say it doesn’t even make sense … It’s frustrating.”

Underscoring this point is a just released Beats by Dre ad featuring Sherman in front of his locker. One reporter asks him if he has a problem with aggression. Another asks if he got into a lot of fights growing up, to which he responds, “Not everyone in Compton is a gang member.” The only question he doesn’t answer immediately: “What do you think about your reputation as a thug?”

The irony, Sherman says, is that “some thugs” that he knows realize that “I’m the furthest thing from a thug.”

The Stanford grad, who Fritz notes has never been arrested or even cursed in front of reporters, says that he senses that epithet is being used partly because he is black.

“It’s like everybody else said the n-word and then they say ‘thug’ and they’re like, ‘Aw, that’s fine,” Sherman told reporters. “It kind of takes me aback.”

Rather than embracing the “thug” persona, the cornerback casts himself a role model for kids in Compton or elsewhere who don’t “come from anything.”

Those children may not have chosen their present, but they can chart their future, Sherman insists.

“Regardless of how bizarre sometimes my story gets, especially in times like this, it’s still remarkable how (my) story can resonate for any kid coming from humble beginnings,” he said. “Whatever beginnings you come from, just understand that you’re circumstances don’t dictate your future… You are limitless.”

5) This post-rant storm won’t affect him, he says

There’s been a lot of noise lately thanks to Sunday’s interview, a headache that Sherman blames partly on himself.

But he and teammates stress the distraction won’t divert Seattle from its task at hand: toppling Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos on February 2.

“I saw some of the interview, just because it’s all over,” Russell Wilson said of his friend’s post-game rant. “…It’s one of those things where you try to keep your focus on the football team. And I know that Richard is always focused.”

During his Wednesday press conference, Sherman seemed most at ease talking about his fellow Seahawks – who he jokingly said “would never say a bad thing about me, even if it was true” – and the upcoming game.

Sherman said he’ll lock in and tune most everything else out, as soon as he boards the bus to New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium right up until he steps off the field.

He vowed to live up to sportsmanship as he defines it – “giving everything you got every play, not breaking any rules, not wanting … to harm anyone on the field.”

But that doesn’t mean he’ll stop talking trash or being brash.

After the uproar over the Fox interview, Sherman said he will “obviously learn from my mistakes and try … to word situations like that better and be more mature about the situation, understand the moment.”

What he won’t do, though, is change how he plays or who he is in any significant way.

“You can’t be anybody else,” Sherman said. “You can’t make things up now. It’s gotten us this far and it’d be hard to … be somebody else. I can only be myself.”

Opinion: Sherman has only himself to blame