Sheldon Richardson is at peace.
He likes who he is and he won’t apologize for it, either.
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Sitting alone in one corner of the Jets’ locker room, far from the glare of TV cameras, he spoke in a calm, low voice. He stressed that he’s a laid-back, humble soul, but one who doesn’t deny his brash, outspoken side.
“And I love who I am,” the defensive tackle said in a recent interview with Newsday. “I’m happy with who I see in the mirror looking back at me. I’m not ashamed of what I’ve done or who I am.”
It’s been five months since he was arrested after a police chase in his home state of Missouri on July 14. The case still hangs over him. The hearing for Richardson’s five misdemeanor charges was postponed for a third time last week and rescheduled to Jan. 25. There’s also a chance he could face discipline for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy.
Richardson just wants to put it all behind him, but he says his critics won’t let him forget it.
“Do people still wonder about the [sexual assault allegations] that Ben Roethlisberger had? But they still bring up Michael Vick and them dogs,” said Richardson, 25. “Served his time, he’s apologized for it. He just hasn’t won a Super Bowl ring. That’s the only difference between those two people.”
Richardson acknowledged that Roethlisberger has never been convicted, instead settling a July 2008 Nevada rape case out of court. However, the Steelers quarterback was suspended four games in 2010 after prosecutors chose not to charge him in a March 2010 sexual assault case in Georgia.
“But, you know, people want to bring up my situation,” said Richardson, who also mentioned ESPN analyst Ray Lewis — who pled guilty to obstruction of justice in connection with the stabbing deaths of two men in 2000 — and NFL Network analyst Michael Irvin, who has been arrested numerous times.
“These are people who are praised every day. It’s still early in my career. And I’m not trying to throw shade on none of those Hall of Fame guys and guys who are older than me. I just want people to open their eyes . . . If I win a Super Bowl ring for some reason, everything gets washed away.”
For all of his on-field success, questions remain about Richardson’s maturity. And though he’s under contract for next season, the Jets will have to make a decision about his long-term future with the franchise.
In 2013, he was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Last season, after registering a team-high seven sacks, he was named the Jets’ team MVP and went to the Pro Bowl as an alternate.
Since returning from suspension this season in Week 6, he’s registered four sacks, 27 tackles and two passes defensed in nine games.
The Jets’ defensive line is populated with young talent. But Richardson’s endless energy and versatility — at defensive tackle, end and outside linebacker — has been an asset for his 9-5 team. “Everything we’ve asked that young man to do, he’s done,” said defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers.
And still, some wonder if Richardson is worth keeping.
Less than two weeks before he was arrested, on July 2, the league announced his four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy (a failed marijuana test). “There are people who say they hope I get traded and I was just at the Pro Bowl last year,” said the former first-round pick, who told Newsday earlier this season that he struggled with depression after the Jan. 30 murder of a close friend.
“You either love me or you hate me. But you can’t take away what I’ve done for the team. You still got 110 percent out of me.”
He likened his latest transgression to “a good moment turned bad” — a family outing that ended with potentially disastrous consequences. Richardson said he attended his relatives’ “7-on-7” sporting event that night. Afterward, he drove them in his 2014 Bentley Silver Spur on Missouri’s Interstate 64.
“First time they were in a Bentley. I was having fun. Wasn’t showing off, wasn’t doing nothing,” he said.
In a statement released by St. Charles County prosecutor Tim Lohmar, Richardson allegedly tried to flee police by exiting the interstate, turning off his lights and running a red light. The car also reeked of marijuana, according to police, and a 12-year-old relative was in the car with Richardson, along with two men. No marijuana or child-endangerment charges were filed.
“I look back on it and it was a little silly,” Richardson said. “But people from New York don’t know Missouri roads, so ya’ll don’t understand, like, it’s not bends and turns and curves, it’s just straight road.”
He understands some fans will never look at him the same, and he’s accepted that. But he was far more hurt that he “shamed” the Jets’ organization and “my family’s name” and couldn’t play football for four games.
“I could talk about money all I want, but let’s not get it twisted. I love the game of football,” said Richardson, who began meeting with a team psychologist twice a week once he was reinstated. “Yeah, you make bad decisions in life, but what person doesn’t?
“So I don’t think of myself as no saint.
“But I’m also not a criminal or a villain, either.”