Sherman proves hero and villain in own morality tale
Seahawks star's brash outburst poses a challenging question for all sports fans
Published 22/01/2014 | 02:30
In sport, very rarely is the hero the villain. Yet such is the status now assumed by Richard Sherman, cornerback of the Seattle Seahawks, leader of their vaunted 'Legion of Boom' secondary and arguably the most provocative man in American sports today.
Never the most likeable athlete, Sherman lost it on Sunday. With 30 seconds left in the NFC championship game, with the San Francisco 49ers marching down the field and chasing the touchdown that would send them to the Super Bowl, quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to go for paydirt.
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree ran a fade route to the corner of the end zone. Kaepernick lofted the ball in and for a split second, San Francisco's destiny seemed sealed.
Only Sherman, who was trailing Crabtree, spotted the ball in flight, spun in the air, and slapped it perfectly into the arms of a team-mate, who completed the interception and ended the game.
Vindicated by victory, Sherman felt inspired to offer Crabtree a patronising pat on the rump before politely gesturing the 'choke' sign in Kaepernick's eyeline.
Then after the game ended, he nearly deafened Fox sideline reporter Erin Andrews with a self-aggrandising rant that dropped a nuclear bomb on the old 'there's no I in team' chestnut.
Sherman's carry-on sent the pundit class and the armchair experts on social media into convulsions, but more importantly, relegated his own moment of genius to the highlight reel recycling bin.
So, is it wrong to admire an athlete like Sherman, someone who pitilessly rubs defeat in opponents' faces and takes every opportunity to celebrate himself and who does all this because he is clearly peerless in his line of work?
Sherman will undoubtedly be at the epicentre of the Super Bowl hype machine, which is currently rumbling into action.
He is angry and articulate. He grew up in Compton, LA, but was his high school's salutatorian and attended Stanford, one of America's finest universities.
As America woke up still enraged about his diatribe, Sherman answered his critics through a very measured article on the 'Sports Illustrated' website.
He even called out his own fans for throwing food at San Francisco 49ers linebacker Navarro Bowman as he was carted off the field following a freak injury.
Ironically, Sherman's bizarre antics blind the public to his own complexity - he describes himself as a "nerd" trying to shake up the homogenous culture of American football
"I know the jock stereotype - cool guy, not caring about anything. I hate the stereotype. I want to kill it," he told 'Sports Illustrated' before the season.
His ability remains unquestioned; opponents fear him. The interception he set up - effectively the game's last play - was only the second time San Francisco had thrown in Sherman's direction that day.
His rant on Fox bore the marks of an affront. How dare they think they could score on him?
In the end, Sherman pushes a challenging question right back at sports fans: is the sports arena merely a theatre where we, the audience, seek moral certainty; or should the players, those who risk their livelihood for our entertainment, write the rules?