The football contributions of Richard Sherman to the Seahawks and Seattle were numerous, significant and memorable. In a day of sadness over the departure of a transcendent athlete, they are worth reflection and admiration for one of the greatest sports careers in our burg’s history.
What I’ll remember just as vividly happened six months ago, when he was willing to call out President Trump on his attempts to divide the nation.
The president in September deliberately provoked NFL players by saying those who silently kneeled or sat during the national anthem should be fired, calling them sons of bitches. The episode prompted a big reaction among NFL teams, including the intensely socially conscious Seahawks, who were flying to Tennessee when the story broke.
After hours of meetings and discussions, the Seahawks decided to stay in the locker room as a group protest during the anthem. They also lost to the Titans, 33-27, an outcome coach Pete Carroll said later was influenced by the time lost to the disruption.
Sherman, who had not joined previous protests, nevertheless understood better than most what Trump had done: Re-framed the protest about social injustice and racial inequality into a test of patriotism. He demonized the players, driving a wedge between them and those fans who couldn’t see past Trump’s manipulations.
At the Seahawks’ media availability the following week, Sherman offered his view without rancor or recrimination.
“We’re trying to make people understand that this world and this country is for everybody — we’re all American,” Sherman said. “Sometimes our president gets into the we-and-them kind of conversations. Sometimes you wonder, who is we and who is them?
“This time, he was talking regarding NFL players. When you’re president and you’re talking about fellow Americans, you always have to say we, or you become divisive. When your supporters continue to press that rhetoric, and then they say others are divisive because they reacted to that, you get to the problems we have today.”
Sherman offered a thoughtful, clear observation about the strategy of division over reconciliation that often had gone unexpressed in the national debate. The reason Sherman’s point resonated with me is because in my time covering sports, it was always plain that a meritocracy independent of race or ethnicity had been allowed to flourish in sports as nowhere else in American culture. And Trump attacked it.
Since the NFL workforce is 70 percent African-American and was overwhelmingly so in the protests, Trump was calling black athletes unpatriotic. It was as wrong as it was reckless, but it helped the NFL turn on itself over the coming weeks, pitting fans against players, owners and coaches against players, players against players and sponsors against players.
Popular industry damaged. Mission accomplished.
Sherman didn’t have to address the matter; he could have talked ball. And in the cavalcade of Shermanian rhetoric over seven years, the moment may have been little noted. But his observation struck me as the kind of understanding found rarely in athletes, or among people of any profession, age or standing.
It was a gratifying, enlightening moment, one that should not go unrecognized in the tributes coming Sherman’s way for his time in Seattle. I will miss him for that kind of analytical curiosity and insight that enlivened the Seattle jock conversation.
That doesn’t mean I agreed with everything Sherman said or did. I do believe Friday’s news that Sherman was released was not based purely on issues of salary cap and health. I do believe a part of it is that Sherman talked his way out of town.
Not over issues of race or politics or culture wars. It was more simple than that: Sherman wore people out.
Being right was not simply a preference; it was an imperative for Sherman. He was so certain of himself that he had no compunction about dressing down his coaches publicly on the field. His best friend on the team, Stanford buddy Doug Baldwin, has had some of the most uproarious arguments with him.
Some day down the road, over beers, some of the assistant coaches might say that Sherman occasionally drove them bats. The same could be said of Marshawn Lynch. Happens with superstar players in all sports, artists of all stripes, and CEOs of all kinds (hi, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates!).
The mere fact that a year ago, without prompting, Carroll and general manager John Schneider said Sherman was on the trade block tells all one needs to know about the tension in the organization. In light of Friday’s development, in which the Seahawks gained nothing from Sherman’s departure except salary cap relief, it now looks like an opportunity missed.
Do not divine from that characterization that Sherman is a jerk. On the contrary, he is among the funniest, warmest, most accommodating athletes I’ve been around. The best tell regarding that is how much time and wisdom he shared with young players, some of whom were out for his job and all of whom adored him.
Sherman is not a perfect guy. He’s a little complicated. Just like, well, us.
He did his job at the highest level possible in the NFL, knew it and wasn’t ashamed to say so. He feared no one, including Trump and Carroll, and could laugh at it all. Any reasonably informed NFL fan is pulling like crazy for Sherman to show up in his or her town.
He once said last year to a group of reporters in the locker room that it was our privilege to be able to talk with him, and that we would all miss him when he’s gone. We snickered, rolled our eyes and shook our heads.
Damn it. He was right. Again.