ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) — If I have learned anything in my five-plus decades on the earth it is that perception and reality are not always the same. What transpires on the stage of life is only part of the drama — and oftentimes much more is taking place when the curtain drops.
The dichotomy between appearance and reality was on display at the conclusion of the National Football League conference championship game Jan. 19 between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks.
Immediately following a great defensive play that secured a victory for his team and a trip to the Super Bowl, Seattle defensive back Richard Sherman acted in a way that I declared at the time was classless.
The judgment seemed justified when moments later Sherman gave a postgame interview worthy of the World Wrestling Federation.
Sherman stared down the camera and declared himself to be the best corner in the NFL, which most of us would agree is probably true. He went on to describe Crabtree as a mediocre receiver and strongly suggested Crabtree should not have been talking about him.
Twitter echoed with judgments similar to mine. Sherman was dismissed with an explosion of criticism. Much of the criticism appeared to come from casual fans.
Casual fans of the NFL likely have had minimal exposure to Seattle or the 49ers. Being located on the West Coast means the majority of the games played by both teams take place late in the day in Central and Easter time zones and thus are not watched by many in America.
As a result, some were being introduced to Sherman for the first time and the impression he gave was that of a talented player flawed by blatant narcissism. Those judgments, it seems, might have been a bit hasty. The perception of the moment seems not to square perfectly with reality.
When I shared my unflattering estimation of Sherman with my sons, both of whom closely follow the NFL, I was told flat out I was wrong. They told me Sherman’s substance was much more than the style I had seen at the end of the game.
Rebuked by progeny that I love and respect, I decided to do some research on the star defensive back.
What I found was that while Sherman is no doubt confident, you have to be to survive in the NFL; there is much more to this man.
The Seahawks’ star defender graduated second from his Compton, Calif., high school. One report suggested he could have done better there if he hadn’t taken so many Advanced Placement courses.
Sherman’s parents are hardworking blue collar folks. His dad works as a trash collector and his mother teaches disabled children in the inner city. Both stressed the value of hard work and education to their son. As a result he survived the crime-ridden, gang-infested streets of the inner city.
When it came time for college, Sherman chose the academically demanding Stanford University. He graduated from the Palo Alto school with a degree in communication before his NCAA eligibility was up. He had a 3.9 GPA. He spent his final year at Stanford working toward a master’s degree.
Sherman started a charity named Blanket Coverage. It focuses on providing school supplies for inner-city kids, ensuring they have good materials and updated textbooks.
While I was learning about Richard Sherman, more information came out that helped provide context for what took place on the field at the end of the NFC championship game.
It seems Michael Crabtree and Sherman had a run-in of sorts during the offseason. Neither player has disclosed what happened, but it is clear Sherman took great umbrage to the incident. It is also evident that Crabtree aimed quite a bit of trash talk at Sherman prior to the game.
After Sherman made the play of the game, he sprinted to Crabtree. Sherman was wearing a wireless microphone during the game and there is no mistaking what he said. He patted Crabtree and basically told the 49er receiver he had played a good game. A frustrated Crabtree shoved the Seattle defender in the face. Later, in an apology, Sherman said it was then that he “went off.”
I am in no way justifying Sherman’s antics, and neither is he. The day following the game Sherman offered an apology to all involved. He also tried to offer some context for all of us ignorant of the inner workings of professional football.
Jesus told us not to judge because He knows our perspectives are severely limited. We rarely, if ever, have enough information to render a proper judgment. I want to learn from my recent poor judgment.
The context of Sherman’s antics cannot be ignored. Professional football is intensely demanding both physically and emotionally. Few can grasp just how intense. Multiply everything by at least 10 in the context of a championship game.
Given the context, who am I to judge Sherman’s reaction. Crabtree had been “crackin’,” in my sons’ words, on Sherman via social media leading up the game. I am also sure the two exchanged pleasantries during the game as well.
While Sherman’s timing in approaching Crabtree was ill-advised, the evidence suggests he was overly excited when he spoke to the 49er receiver. When he was snubbed, he reacted — and that reaction spilled over to the postgame interview.
Sherman is known for trash talking. He is not alone. It is simply part of the psychological warfare some players employ in trying to get an edge over an opponent. Most players understand that and do not take it.
My initial judgment of Richard Sherman was wrong. Had I heeded the admonition of Jesus I would have withheld judgment until I had more facts. Not judging also goes hand in hand with another of the Lord’s teachings, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.