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Controversial Richard Sherman won't tone himself down

Cornerback Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates

Cornerback Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates after he tips the ball leading to an interception by outside linebacker Malcolm Smith to clinch the victory for the Seahawks against the San Francisco 49ers during the 2014 NFC Championship at CenturyLink Field. (Jan. 19, 2014) Credit: Getty Images

REDMOND, Wash. - He's tried it your way. Being less brash, less vocal, less obnoxious. It doesn't work. All it results in is less Richard Sherman.

"It just cuts into my game,'' the fiery yet philosophical Seahawks cornerback said this past week. "If I'm going to put my all into it, I'm going to put my all into it.''

He certainly put his all into his entrance on America's biggest sporting stage last week when, after he made the play that sent the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, he made certain that everyone knew about it. Especially 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

It became a lightning rod for political commentary and discussions about the line between sportsmanship and entertainment, and it even waded into racial tensions. Just as you once could tell a lot about a person by whether he or she supported Muhammad Ali or Joe Frazier, where someone landed on the Sherman Reaction Spectrum seemed to become a telling indication of that person's overall thinking.

And none of it was wrong.

Except, apparently, the part about Richard Sherman.

That short introduction to the country, in which he barked ferociously at millions of television viewers, was not reflective of the person those around Sherman have come to know and admire.

"I think we just witnessed a moment,'' Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We witnessed maybe 20 seconds or something of a passionate outburst. He's had a very strong season, and everyone around here will tell you how much we trust him and love him as a teammate and a member and a leader and all of that stuff because that is exactly what he is in this program.''

And how has Sherman handled the searing heat of the spotlight that comes to those who find themselves not only a matter for discussion but for debate?

"I think you see Richard grow into this opportunity of a lifetime, really,'' Carroll said.


The $5-million meltdown?

Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril chuckled at the question, saying, "Everybody's asking me that.''

And he didn't just mean everybody in the media. The obvious query that he and his teammates will be facing from reporters for the next week is the same one on the lips of football fans (and non-football fans) everywhere:

What's Sherman really like?

"Richard is completely opposite from [the postgame interview] as far as how he is with his teammates, how he is in the community,'' Avril said. "He's a real smart, chill guy. He just sometimes wants to get his point across. And he did that, I guess.''

By now, Sherman's tale has become well documented. He grew up in gang-riddled Compton, Calif., emerged as not only one of the top athletic prospects in the country but one of the brightest ones, too, went to Stanford and graduated with a 3.9 GPA.

"It really gave me a great base to understand that when you're doing something, when you're going out there and playing the game and doing that, that you didn't come from anything,'' Sherman said of his meager and sometimes harrowing beginnings.

"Where you came from, not a lot of people eat every night. People don't eat every night, there is crime out there. Kids who are born into situations didn't choose those lives, they didn't choose that. So you really take every moment and every play and you understand that it has great magnitude and it means a lot, and you really take nothing for granted. You take no play, no blade of grass, nothing for granted, and you go out there and play with all of your heart.''

Some people have speculated that what Sherman did last Sunday night was calculated. For every fan he turned off with his antics, he likely gained a few who were enthralled by his bravado. And in the world of 21st- century marketing, making a splash is important. He added 150,000 Twitter followers in the hours after last week's game, and CNNMoney speculated that he could make upward of $5 million in endorsements after his rant. That's almost 10 times his base salary ($555,000) for the 2013 season and more than 600 times the $7,875 the NFL fined him for unsportsmanlike conduct and taunting.

"We have some new players who have come to the table who are starting the conversation,'' his agent, Jamie Fritz, told CNN this past week about possible business partners for Sherman. "People love this. The brand managers love this.''

All of which begs another question. If Sherman is so smart, and he always has a plan, and his teammates and coaches say he is misrepresented by the postgame tirade, was it a calculated move to cast himself not only at center stage but perhaps even as the villain?

NFL Films has a video clip of Sherman spitting brimstone for one local television interview immediately after the game, pausing to hug Fox reporter Erin Andrews with a smile and a look of joy over the win, and then turning back into the raving lunatic once the red lights of the national camera came on.

Every story needs a Darth Vader, a Wicked Witch, a Lex Luthor. It needs a character to balance the good of the hero, represent the power that ruthlessness can wield when virtue reaches its limit. The great dramas in American culture -- sports included -- all need bad guys. Hey, the Iron Sheik made a pretty good living out of being hated.

Was that Sherman's ultimate goal?

"Possibly,'' Avril said with a smirk at Sherman's motives. "If he is trying to do something, much respect to him.''


Adjusting to the times

Sherman insists his approach to football (and public speaking) is nothing new. In fact, he pointed to outspoken players whom he studied and looked up to while growing up, athletes such as Ali, Deion Sanders and Michael Irvin. When asked about his choke gesture at 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, he compared it to Reggie Miller's. The Pacers guard did that to the Knicks and their fans in 1995. Sherman was 7 years old at that time!

"I studied the old-school game more than I studied the new-school game, and I play it that way,'' Sherman said. "It rubs a lot of people the wrong way. Giving a true speech after a game, a true passionate speech, is old-school football. Playing press corner every play is old-school football. I guess maybe I just haven't adjusted to the times.''

Sherman and the Seahawks -- Remember them? Those 52 other players who are in the Super Bowl with him? -- will arrive in New Jersey Sunday night and begin a week of preparations for the game against the Broncos. Sherman will be under the biggest microscope the collected media can muster, and they undoubtedly will poke and prod him into providing glorious sound bites that they can hoist like pelts.

Sherman has admitted that his postgame comments that created this uproar were "misdirected and immature'' and said he would have approached the television interviews differently had he known what kind of backlash they were going to create.

But when it comes to this week, Sherman said he'll be holding nothing back.

"I obviously learn from my mistakes and try to do it better, word situations like that, and be more mature about the situation and understand the moment,'' he said. "But you can't be anybody else. I can't make anything up now. It's gotten us this far and it'll be hard to make something up and be somebody else.

"I really don't know how to be anybody else. I can only be myself.''

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