Pride has carried him beyond expectation for a raw fifth-round draft choice. But pride has a price and can sometimes carry him too far.
Richard Sherman once said he wanted to be a tourist attraction: “You come, I take your money and you go.” He was talking about playing cornerback and picking off passes, two areas where he excels. But he easily could have been talking about his image.
Sherman reveals only what he wants to reveal. He never bows to public pressure, rarely gives more than he intends, and rarely is caught off guard.
“You can’t understand him,” said receiver Doug Baldwin, who has known Sherman since college. “You just have to accept him for who he is at that time. He can be very angry and very expressive and selfish, but then there’s times when he’s very selfless and very caring and very thoughtful and considerate. He goes through the whole spectrum.”
This season, Sherman dressed up as Harry Potter and screamed at his head coach. He lobbied for teammates to make the Pro Bowl and slammed his helmet while yelling at his defensive coordinator. He joked with one reporter that he was a muggle and told another he’d “ruin” his career.
“It’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Sherman’s high school coach, Keith Donerson, said. “And as a coach, I’ve experienced both.”
Sherman’s dominant characteristic is his pride. It’s palpable, as if it’s something he wears, and informs many of his actions.
“In the 10 years that I’ve known him,” Baldwin said, “he’s never apologized. I’ve never heard him apologize.”
Longtime teammates report Sherman is undefeated in locker-room debates.
“He can argue anything until his face turns blue — and make you agree with him, even though you know he’s wrong,” said linebacker K.J. Wright. “That’s who he is. He could be a great lawyer.”
Linebacker Mike Morgan laughed. “If he thinks the sky is red,” Morgan said, “you ain’t changing his mind on it.”
That pride has carried the 28-year-old Sherman beyond expectation for a raw fifth-round draft choice. He has 30 career interceptions, the most by any player since 2011. He has made four Pro Bowls, been named first-team All-Pro three times and is widely regarded as one of the game’s elite cornerbacks. But as with every trait, Sherman’s pride has a price and can sometimes carry him too far.
This season has been the most turbulent of Sherman’s six-year career. He has twice erupted on the sideline at coaches — first at defensive coordinator Kris Richard after a breakdown against Atlanta in October and then at head coach Pete Carroll after the Seahawks passed from the 1-yard line against the Rams three weeks ago.
But the issue wasn’t just the emotional fireworks on the field. It was what happened afterward in the calm of the locker room.
After the Rams game, Sherman said he wanted the Seahawks to run the ball. He put his finger in the old wound of the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots when he said the Seahawks saw how throwing from the 1-yard line worked out.
TIMELINE: Richard Sherman’s turbulent 2016 »
Five days later, Sherman doubled down. He said he might react the same way if the situation repeated itself. He didn’t apologize or express regret. It was surprising only because Carroll had twice hinted that Sherman would smooth over the rough edges after they had an hour-long conversation. But that is not Sherman’s nature.
“I think it stems from the pride, the desire to be great at whatever he puts himself into,” Baldwin said. “And then having a sense of accomplishment from the hard work that he’s put in and being unwilling to waver on the path, the things that have gotten him the success he’s been able to get. It’s hard to tell somebody to do something different when they’ve been successful at doing it their way for so long.”
Baldwin and Sherman have a unique relationship. They became friends when they were broke college kids. They’ve been in more arguments than they can remember. As rookies, they were so upset at each other that they pulled off the highway and nearly fought. Neither can recall the argument’s origin.
Baldwin and Sherman share an intensity, and over the years both have crossed the line. When that’s happened, the other has offered honest feedback. That’s what Baldwin tried to do after Sherman’s blowup against the Rams.
“I just tried to give him a different perspective,” Baldwin said. “I know that we all have our perspectives and our opinions and our emotions. Sometimes we can get caught into a corner thinking that our opinions and our thoughts and our emotions are the only ones that matter, the only ones that are valid.
“I’m just trying to give him a different perspective, a different view sometimes when he gets caught in those corners. We all do it. I’m thankful for his blessings of being able to give me grace in those times, so I’m just trying to give him the same.”
Baldwin said controversy has followed Sherman ever since he has known him. That’s the world Sherman has lived in, the world he has created. The past several years have offered small clues to figuring out Sherman, especially when reassembled.
Sherman always has danced the line between explosive and edgy. Carroll embraced that dynamic because of the benefits on the field.
For a long time, Sherman’s pride needed a target to war against.
His high-school coach in Compton, Calif., gave an example from a few years ago. He and his coaches tried to tame Sherman, tried to harness his emotions and trash talk. In the first half, Sherman limited his antics but played lifeless. In the second half, coaches turned him loose, and he played better.
“I can’t be someone else,” Sherman said after his controversial “Crabtree” interview with Erin Andrews in 2014. “I’ve tried multiple times, and it cuts my game.”
Carroll’s objective was less about changing Sherman and more about picking his battles. Jamie Fritz, a brand manager who worked with Sherman, once said: “Ninety percent of what comes out of Richard’s mouth is spot on. It’s the 10 percent that Pete Carroll worries about.” Sherman also admitted he was “in control” about 90 percent of the time.
After the 2013 season, Sherman adapted. He didn’t talk as much trash and his news conferences drifted toward normal. But on one issue he was adamant.
“People say I’ve quieted and changed,” he said last season, “but you must not be watching anymore.”
“In the 10 years that I’ve known him. He’s never apologized. I’ve never heard him apologize.” - Baldwin on Sherman
What changed was his motivation. He no longer sought fame; he’d found more of it than he could have imagined. Sherman told Baldwin during their rookie year in 2011 that he intended to be a household name by the end of his second season. So he antagonized high-profile people in Year Two: Tom Brady, Skip Bayless, Calvin Johnson.
His fame swelled until it exploded after he called out 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree in January of 2014. The intensity and rapid ascension of Sherman’s celebrity left him startled and occasionally frustrated. He quit eating out with his family after games, and at the airport he tried to hide, to little avail, inside his hoodie.
“He enjoys it,” his brother, Branton, said two years ago. “But sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he doesn’t. I tell him all the time when he gets frustrated: ‘Bro, this is what you signed up for.’ ”
Branton added: “I don’t think he wanted to sign up for this much. But he has it now, and he has to adjust and be courageous and make it happen.”
Sherman also no longer needed to prove himself on the field.
“Some of it is just understanding who you’re battling with,” he said last year. “Who’s your biggest critic? And if you’re looking at him in the mirror, then who am I doing the gestures to?”
The foundation of Sherman’s game is his mind. He recognizes plays before the snap, and his anticipation allows him to play unorthodox.
“I think you have to be very careful when you watch Sherm because his brain is working on another level,” said former Seahawks defensive back Chandler Fenner. “You can’t just watch his film and try to emulate or imitate what he’s doing because you don’t know why he’s doing it.”
Yet Sherman’s talent can get overshadowed by everything else. There have always been claims that Sherman’s antics, outbursts and news conferences draw attention to himself and away from the team. And he did use his platform to consciously build his brand.
But Sherman also is a generous mentor. He’s told countless young players that if they can take his job, they should. He told Tharold Simon he could be better than him. He spends time after practice working with cornerbacks buried on the depth chart or on the practice squad.
“When I had my tryout with the Giants, when I had my tryout here with the BC Lions, I told him I was going to them,” Fenner said. “And he just told me to be relaxed and be under control. I’m a high motor and high energy kind of guy, and I can get going faster than I need to. He knows that about me, and that’s one of the great things about Sherm. He can see right into people.”
One of Sherman’s gifts is his ability to relate to teammates from all backgrounds, a transition he is uniquely suited to navigate.
“He’s pretty much in a world of his own,” former Seahawks safety Dion Bailey once marveled. “He can communicate with every level of social status on this earth. He can talk with the smartest of them, and then he’s from Compton, the streets, so he can talk in the streets.”
Sherman is aware of his own tide. Anything he says can morph into news and he embraces the chance to leave behind a few crumbs, usually with a wink.
The comment Sherman made about being a tourist attraction instead of an island was not only a shot at “Revis Island,” but came after Sherman jokingly said it in the locker room. He told a reporter if he asked the question, he’d give the same answer. He criticizes officiating so he can potentially get a call and has advocated for teammates to make the Pro Bowl — Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Cliff Avril.
“A lot of people look at him as a selfish guy because of the things he does on the field — or says off the field sometimes,” Baldwin said a couple years ago. “But he’s genuinely a big teddy bear.”
A few years ago, after the Crabtree interview consumed the buildup to the Super Bowl, Sherman said he didn’t want to be a villain “because I’m not a villainous person.”
Three weeks ago, after his explosion on the sideline consumed the victory over the Rams, Sherman changed tones, a reflection of the world he has lived inside, the world he in part created.
“I could care less,” he said. “People think I’m a villain already. It’s not going to kill my perception.”