Richard Sherman apparently figured the best way forward was to back up and cover some tracks. The Seahawks’ star cornerback, meeting with local media Wednesday for the first time in a gnarly off-season in which he was on the trade market and the subject of a provocative national story, was his familiar glib, loquacious self, while dismissing the controversy around him and the tensions in the locker room as just, well, no big deal.
“I feel fantastic,” he said after practice at the team’s headquarters. “I always feel good about my future as long as I’m playing good football and doing my job. Now, if I go out there and play, like, terrible, like somebody else, then I wouldn’t feel good about anything.
“But as long as (I’m) playing football and I’m around my guys, I think I’ll be fine.”
Sherman said the trade possibility, discussed openly pre-draft by coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider after Sherman had two public, in-game confrontations with coaches that induced multiple meetings, was not something he requested. He claimed it was standard football business in the off-season.
“If somebody comes with two first-rounders, I wouldn’t blame them in the least, you know?” he said, chuckling about the rumored minimum sought by the Seahawks from trade partners. “But it’s just conversation. I think we have a fantastic relationship, and always have. And it’s always been transparent to have those communications, and not have them in a rude or discourteous way, but just professionally.”
Sherman claimed to be “not bothered in the least” by the trade talk. But he clearly was bothered by the ESPN.com story by Seth Wickersham May 25 that claimed Sherman was not over the Super Bowl loss to New England and did not have a good relationship with QB Russell Wilson, partly because of his “favored-son” status.
But before those remarks, Sherman addressed the more important matter of the relationship with his teammates, some of whom — LB Bobby Wagner, WR Doug Baldwin and DE Michael Bennett — stood alongside the media scrum to listen in, along with numerous staffers.
Sherman clearly disrupted his teammates and coaches during two home games, Oct. 15 against the Falcons and Dec. 16 against the Rams, with sideline confrontations with coaches. He inched further along the road of accountability, but fell short of taking direct responsibility for his actions.
“At times, it might have gotten kind of overblown, I might have gone over the top,” he said. “But (Carroll) understood where it was coming from, and so did my teammates. It’s just the competitiveness — it’s just a competitive team. And that’s why my teammates still ride with me. They’re still, ‘Ride or die.’ Good times and bad times. Just like a family.”
That may be true, but few families are charged with the famously difficult task of winning a Super Bowl, so self-induced distractions are at best a large nuisance and at worst, insubordination. Asked if he did indeed go too far, Sherman said, “I just said I might have gone over the top in some encounters. I’ve talked to them and at the end of the day, those are the only people I feel I need to talk to.”
That’s probably true, but when the player doesn’t talk beyond the tight circle, stories like Wickersham’s, which had several anonymous sources, get written. Sherman is among the NFL’s largest personalities and most media-friendly, but after a testy press conference a few days after the Rams game, Sherman withdrew for the rest of the season.
Wednesday was his first group re-engagement. He used the forum for a lengthy dissertation on his understanding of the business of journalism, as a way of denigrating the ESPN story done by an experienced, long-form feature writer.
“I think he’s just looking for attention, just like a lot of reporters are these days,” he said. “I think it’s tough for good journalists, who make good stories and really focus on the game and really focus on doing their job the correct way, to make a living, because you have click-bait writers like that.
“He could have easily made a story about how a great team has a great competitive environment, competitive locker room and an iron-sharpens-iron mentality from offense to defense. It would have been a fantastic story. It probably would have still gotten the same number of clicks. But he went (to) a controversial, nonsense angle, which anybody can do.
“You can do that about any competitive team in the NFL. You can take one snapshot moment of a practice of a team on their way to a Super Bowl and say, ‘Wow, there’s discord there. Wow, they must be not going to the playoffs this year.’
“But he could have made the story about, ‘Wow, their offense and defense really go at it every day and really push themselves to the limits.’ Really celebrated the competitiveness and appreciated how great the team is. How great the locker room has to be for guys to be able to be that competitive on the field, then come into the locker room and have a fantastic relationship.
“But he didn’t because he needed clicks. He wanted to make it controversial. That’s just an unfortunate landscape that we live in now. So we didn’t really worry about it. We know what the truth is.”
While it’s true that controversy sells, it’s also true that Sherman’s uncharacteristic public confrontations with coaches and uncharacteristic withdrawal from media duties that he clearly had been handling easily, invited scrutiny.
Had Sherman said publicly something like, “My competitiveness got the best of me. I became a distraction. I apologize to the coaches and players. Let’s go win,” the story likely wouldn’t have been written, and Carroll and Schneider would not have used the public-trade discussion as a tool of manipulation.
But Sherman, 29, hasn’t reached that level of maturity about accepting one’s own human frailties. It’s a hard thing for many to do at any age, including presidents. Especially in top-level pro football, as Sherman adroitly pointed out.
“We play a violent, adrenaline-infused game that takes everything you’ve got,” he said. “In order to play it at a high level, you’ve got to give everything you’ve got. To catch us on the field and try to make a story out of some nonsense like that, is laughable.
“But it’s also the unfortunate time that we are in, I guess.’’
Actually, it has nothing to do with the times. It has to do with human nature, which has not changed at least since the time of Aristotle, who wrote:
Other Sherman responses to questions:
(On another story with which he disagreed) “There was one story somebody said (Russell Wilson) wasn’t black enough. These are jokes. We laugh at this in the locker room because it’s a complete joke. But in the public, it’s actually a story because nobody can question it. Nobody researches it. Nobody really asks the question. If you ask us, did anybody say is Russell black enough? Of course not. Nobody ever even thought that. It’s hard enough being a black man in America.”
(His relationship with Wilson) “It’s fantastic. It’s fantastic. We’re teammates. It’s like a family. It’s like everyone else in a family, we fight for one another just like I’m fighting for the other 52 guys out there, I’m fighting for him and he’s fighting for us. We have a great appreciation for how tough our quarterback is and what he has played through.”
(On Wilson being treated differently than the rest of the team) “You could literally say that about any team, any quarterback. You could say, ‘Well, the Patriots probably think Tom Brady gets treated differently than everybody else.’ But it would be a legitimate claim . . . I guarantee you, you go to a practice in the middle of training camp (of a playoff-caliber team) and miked everybody up, you wouldn’t be able to produce that dialogue (because of the profane conflicts). That’s what it takes.”
(On his “new” attitude) “It’s like a brand-new, old attitude. It’s like I’m taking it back.” (Back to when?) “Like I was a cold dude. I’m getting back to my ways.”
(Do you believe the Super Bowl loss hangs over the team?) “I don’t. Because for it to linger, most of these guys would have to be here, and the guys that are here have moved past it. I mean we’ve had Pro Bowl, All-Pro seasons since then, and we’re battling. Sometimes you run into injuries like we did last year, and the year before, and you get derailed. Or you run into a better opponent like we did Carolina that year, and it doesn’t work out. I don’t think that has anything to do with a Super Bowl hangover. It’s just football. . . . I think we still have the tools and we still have everything we need. We win it this year, and I think the questions are still the same. I think it’s just, ‘Oh they got one. Is the window closing?’ Because you always need a story.”
(Do you want to retire as a Seahawk?) I would definitely like to retire a Seahawk and finish my career here. We’ve started here, we started something special. I think it would be best to end something special here. I guess we wouldn’t end anything special, you still might have guys on this team who are here for 20 years like Charles (Woodson), which would be a blessing, but that’s a story for a different day. I think this is a great city. This is a city that I would like to raise my kids in. The people here are much more polite than the people in LA and I’m from LA, so that’s saying a lot.”