His tone was measured, a far cry from the burst of acrimony that stunned the nation Sunday. His laugh was frequent and contagious. His vibe was one of relaxed intensity – an oxymoron, to use a word that Richard Sherman tossed out later to describe the contrast between his Compton, Calif., roots and Stanford schooling.
If you thought that Sherman would be cowed or shell-shocked, somehow chastened by the furor from his post-game interview with Erin Andrews, well, you don’t know him well enough.
This was clearly a man who felt perfectly comfortable in his skin, just as comfortable as ever, despite the avalanche of criticism that has descended upon him.
“I was on a football field showing passion,” he said. “Maybe it was misdirected, maybe things may have been immature, things could’ve been worded better, but this was on a football field. I wasn’t committing any crimes or doing anything illegal.”
Oh, Sherman seemed genuinely regretful that The Interview Heard Round The World detracted from the performance of his teammates in Sunday’s NFC title game victory over the 49ers.
But in an eloquent dissection of the mindset that led to his tirade against 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree, Sherman also made it clear that he can’t change the essence of who he is.
And the essence of Sherman includes the sensibilities of both Compton and Stanford, synthesized into the on-the-edge, adrenaline-fueled fury that drives him each and every Sunday.
Sherman acknowledged he can try to choose his words better, “be more mature about the situation and understand the moment. But you can’t be anybody else. You can’t make things up now.”
He knows that from experience. Sherman said he has tried (or been forced) more than once to change his methods, to try to conform to the world outside the gridiron.
“It cuts my game,” he said. “If you catch me as I’m putting my all into it, you may get something like what happened at the end of the game. I put my all into this game. I put my sole focus, my passion, my energy, my everything. … After the game, you’re putting everything out there, and you’ve been victorious. It is what it is.”
What it was this time was a media sensation that surprised even Sherman. Everyone, it seemed, had a take. The whole experience, he said, “was kind of profound.”
What most galled Sherman, not surprisingly, were the racially based attacks, in general, and the rampant use of the thinly veiled code word “thug” in particular.
“The only reason it bothers me is because it seems like it’s the accepted way of calling somebody the n-word nowadays,” he said. “It’s like everybody else said the n-word, then they said … ‘thug’, and they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s fine.’ That’s where it kind of takes me aback, and it’s kind of disappointing.
It hurts because Sherman has fought his whole life to shake that label. It hurts because he has spent much of his adulthood helping the next generation of kids avoid them, too.
“I know some thugs,” he said. “They know I’m the furthest thing from a thug … Just because you hear Compton, you hear Watts, you hear cities like that, you just think, thug. He’s a gangster, he’s this, that and the other.
“Then you hear Stanford and they’re like, oh, man, that doesn’t even make sense. That’s an oxymoron. You fight it for so long, to have it come back up and people start to use it again is frustrating.”
Sherman shrugs and says all this will be a teachable moment the next time he steps into a classroom.
“I think regardless of how bizarre sometimes my story gets, especially in times like this, it can resonate for any kids coming from humble beginnings,” he said. “Or whatever beginnings you come from.”
Sherman was asked about one of his acknowledged sports heroes, Muhammad Ali, and how he handled controversies like this.
“I think he handled it by continuing to be himself,” he replied. “He handled it head-on. He didn’t hide from it, he didn’t run from it. He took it head on and he stood his ground.”
Sherman hastily added he didn’t equate his situation to Ali’s during a time of great social unrest.
“What he had to deal with was 100 times crazier than it is now,” he said. “This is regular society, and that’s one of the things that I feel like I may be missing out on, because I feel like my game might be 20 years too late.
“Maybe I watched those guys too much. Maybe I studied the Muhammad Alis, the Deion Sanders, the guys who played the game – Michael Irvin, Jerry Rice – I studied the old-school game more than I studied the new-school game, and I play it that way.
“It rubs a lot of people the wrong way, and giving a true speech after a game, a true passionate speech, is old-school football. … I guess maybe I haven’t just adjusted to the times.”
So it shall stay for Richard Sherman. Head-on and standing his ground. You can’t make things up now.