If you watched the NFC Championship game on Sunday night between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers, I hope you kept it on long enough to hear the most talked about sports interview of 2014 thus far.
In less than 25 seconds, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman certainly didn’t mince words in an interview with Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews about his heated relationship with 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree—and the firestorm that has endured since that fateful Sunday half-of-a-moment has been incredible.
Sports, in many ways, are a certain form of science. Shooting foul shots or netting three-pointers are matters of balanced power and strength. A pitcher’s throws are instances of exactitude or exploitation, the difference between a strike and an RBI down the left field line. Athletes endure a process of harsh elimination on the road to professionalism, and, on that road, their qualifications and prerequisites of specific and often un-teachable knowledge, power, strength and aptitude are tested as matters of survival in the game.
That being said, it’s evident and irrefutable that in today’s media-centric world, sports demand more than physicality out of athletes. Sports do not live in a vacuum. Athletes don’t either. It is of heavy importance that an athlete remain compliant with certain arbitrated standards—no unnecessary roughness, monetary fines incurred for bad behavior or dangerous hits. They are all pieces to the PR puzzle.
It’s no secret that athletes are consistently under the heated glare of the spotlight. Sometimes they glow and sometimes the light hits them the wrong way. But, more often than not, it is an active, calculated choice by which athletes concretely determine the aura they exude. They create their personal brands—some literally with branded commodities—but always with their decisions and degrees of character and banter in sports media being visible and audible to the public eye and ear.
The national sports conversation of the last few days has focused on Sherman’s loud and resonating interview. The thing is—this is sports. Sports are a spectacle. We pack tens of thousands of people into coliseums with soaring stands after numerous hours of tailgating on concrete wastelands on the beds of pick-up trucks. We encourage rowdy fans at games, filled with hot wings and beer and city pride—Seattle’s 12th man being arguably the best in the business. We love to talk trash and heckle. And so do the athletes.
Professional sports and sports media, in the last decade, have been indubitably altered by the use of social media. Never have diehard fans, heated rival cohorts or hawk-eyed news organizations been able to live in a world so connected to pedestaled professional athletes. They are no longer untouchable, and the accessibility to players’ thoughts and commentaries allows vision into the actual humanity of these athletes, removing them from their perfectly chiseled and nimbly keen bodies and putting them at eye-level with everyone else. What we’ve learned from this is that athletes are human, and humans have emotions—and the things that sport endures from these emotions are incredible.
When it comes to post-game interviews, fans and commentators and analysts should let the athletes talk. Like any good interviewer hopes for, sometimes these few post-game lines are worth a thousand more. Let them make their own decisions. Let them decide how they want the light to shine on them and how they want their shadow to cast. Let them make their own name off the field. They’re big boys and girls. Let them say what they want. Let them make their own mistakes. Chances are, they don’t think these are mistakes at all.
If Richard Sherman didn’t want to be perceived as someone who thinks he is the best cornerback in the league, he wouldn’t have said he was the best cornerback in the league. This interview with Andrews is not an isolated incident. Sherman’s trash talking is his own choice. It’s his thing, actually. In a 2013 interview on ESPN’s “First Take,” Sherman literally made co-host Skip Bayless admit that Sherman is better at life than Bayless is. We should know this about his style and his attitude, and, as sports fans, we should love this. This makes the next game even better.
It is a choice—an active choice—for Sherman, and other athletes, to make bold, brash, ludicrous statements like he did on Sunday night. He did it because, in that moment, he wanted to. He felt it was right and necessary. I’m sure he would do it again, and maybe he will. Other athletes have—athletes with far less credibility and outright physicality and skill than Sherman has.
Sherman’s current presence and stronghold in the spotlight of American big-time sports makes his case that much more salient. He’s literally in the eyes of all of America, aware that the next time he takes the field will be the most-watched television event of the year. And he still said it and still should have—because it’s his thing. It’s how he wants to be perceived. It’s his athletic ego. It’s not everyone’s idea of a good thing, but it’s his, and if you don’t like it, I’m sure Sherman wouldn’t want you donning a Seahawks jersey on February 2.
Sherman sent a message that he wanted America to hear. He asked us to love it or hate it. And we will pick a side.
And that’s the beauty of sports.
Ashley Camano is a Trinity senior. Her column runs every other Thursday. Send Ashley a message on Twitter @camanyooo.