Earlier this week, my editor, Jocelyn Sheets, wrote passionately about showing character in sports, particularly in the aftermath of defeat or victory. She referenced a post-game rant by Seattle Seahawks’ defensive back Richard Sherman that has become infamous in the past few days, and while I agree with the basic premise that you should always respect your opponent and show dignity in victory or defeat, allow me a rebuttal.
What Sherman did, on its most basic and primal level, I have absolutely no problem with. We have all fallen victim to moments of extreme passion or excitement in our lives. The difference happens to be that none of our moments were broadcast on television for the whole world to see, digest and critique.
I have certainly acted harshly following an ego-crushing defeat, and I have been pompous and unrelenting following an emotionally draining victory. It’s at the heart of any competitor. Letting that out afterwards epitomizes the very essence of sports.
To question or judge someone’s character by the way they behave in the heat of competition or immediately afterward is unfair to that individual. By all accounts, Sherman is a well-behaved, articulate and charitable young man. His trash talking during the game, brashness on the field and all its subsequent results are cerebrally concocted. I have played sports with people like this and against people like this. I loved having them on my team, and I hated playing against them. He gets under the opponent’s skin, forcing them to think about something other than doing their job on the field. Words can only go so far. As long as you are playing the game the right way, say whatever you want.
I have never talked trash on a field or court, but I have also never had the athletic ability of most that do. I can’t honestly say if I had the type of skill Sherman enjoys that I wouldn’t behave along the same lines. His brashness only adds to his skill set. It’s a way for him to get an added advantage.
While I have never gotten in anyone’s face as if to say, “I’m better than you,” I do know what it feels like immediately following a brutal loss or an exciting win.
Everything that happens in the five, 10 or 15 minutes after one of those games should be forgiven. For example, in my sophomore year of college, I played a lot of pickup basketball. A lot. Every night at around 8 or 9 p.m., I would head to the rec center for some pickup, usually with a friend or two. On one night in particular, we were up big. The memory is a bit hazy now, but as I recall, it was something along the lines of 9-2 in a game to 11.
To make a long story short, the other team came back and won, I didn’t touch the ball in that whole run. I’m not Kobe Bryant, but I was pretty hot that night and was understandably upset. The final point went through the net. I grabbed the ball and punted it. The ball went off the side wall and whapped a guy in the head. I ran over and apologized while he looked at me like I was crazy. He played his next game, walked up to me after, shook my hand and said, “hey, dude it happens.”
Other people who have experienced similar pain or jubilation know that in those moments, emotions can get the better of us. Different people respond in different ways. I’ve seen a whole range of emotions that people use to vent following a loss or a win. It ranges from depression to anger to euphoria to stoic silence.
Years ago, after an up-and-down series against the Orlando Magic, LeBron James came under a heavy fire of criticism because he walked off the court without shaking hands. That’s his way of dealing with it.
You can be Richard Sherman yelling at a camera, LeBron James refusing to shake hands or Urban Meyer sadly eating a pizza in a golf cart (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out Youtube). Everyone handles rapid emotional changes differently.
Be who you are, no matter what you do. If you do something dumb in the heat of passion, that’s OK. It’s whether you can reflect and make amends in the aftermath that truly shows your character.