Everyone has an opinion on Richard Sherman this week. Immediately after sealing the Seattle Seahawks’ win over the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday's NFC Championship game, by deflecting a last-minute pass to Michael Crabtree, the cornerback gave an impassioned interview that you’ve probably seen by now. Some people called him a classless thug, while others laughed off his rant as an understandably emotional response to capping off the biggest game of his career with a play that will show up on NFL playoff reels for years to come.
The reaction to the reaction has now become the story, with Sherman apologizing Monday for singling out Crabtree “and taking the attention away from the fantastic game by my teammates,” he wrote in a text message to ESPN’s Ed Werder. A lot of commentary focused on whether Sherman showed a lack of sportsmanship, but some carried a specific disdain for arrogance displayed by a gifted black man.
We like to think that we live in a post-racial America, but it’s hard to ignore the disparity between Sherman’s treatment and that of many white athletes who have dared to be publicly confident. Nobody’s accusing Johnny Manziel or [insert name of a Duke basketball player here] of setting white people back 500 years, but Sherman and others who fit the construct of the uppity black athlete -- see Owens, Terrell, or even Williams, Serena -- are apparently a disgrace to their sport for bragging.
Whatever your moral stance, one thing is indisputable: Big personalities and big controversies make for big business. Peter King wrote on Sports IIllustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback blog that the column Sherman wrote yesterday to explain the interview quickly became MMQB’s most-read post and drove the site’s highest-traffic day since it started six months ago. In fact, that’s the reason Fox Sports, ESPN and others shove a microphone in front of players’ faces in the immediate aftermath of a big game. Although most players end up saying next to nothing, shooting a cursory nod to their teammates and coaches and God, the hope is for just one interesting statement to build a story on.
The sports media struck gold with Sherman’s interview, adding a conversation about race, sportsmanship and role models to the Super Bowl buildup. It’s the story that keeps on giving -- which is why, today, we’re much more focused on Sherman supposedly being an ungracious winner than on Bill Belichick or Tom Brady being sore losers.
(Kavitha A. Davidson is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about sports. Follow her on Twitter at @kavithadavidson.)