BY Art Thiel 08:05PM 03/09/2018

Thiel: The complicated legacy of Sherman

Richard Sherman played as well as he talked, which is saying much. Besides the salary cap and injuries, he probably talked his way out of town too.

As Harry Potter before a Halloween weekend game, Richard Sherman lectured some muggles at Seahawks Hogwarts. / Art Thiel, Sportspress Northwest

The football contributions of Richard Sherman to the Seahawks and Seattle were numerous, significant and memorable. In a day of sadness over the departure of a transcendent athlete, they are worth reflection and admiration for one of the greatest sports careers in our burg’s history.

What I’ll remember just as vividly happened six months ago, when he was willing to call out President Trump on his attempts to divide the nation.

The president in September deliberately provoked NFL players by saying those who silently kneeled or sat during the national anthem should be fired, calling them sons of bitches. The episode prompted a big reaction among NFL teams, including the intensely socially conscious Seahawks, who were flying to Tennessee when the story broke.

After hours of meetings and discussions, the Seahawks decided to stay in the locker room as a group protest during the anthem. They also lost to the Titans, 33-27, an outcome coach Pete Carroll said later was influenced by the time lost to the disruption.

Sherman, who had not joined previous protests, nevertheless understood better than most what Trump had done: Re-framed the protest about social injustice and racial inequality into a test of patriotism. He demonized the players, driving a wedge between them and those fans who couldn’t see past Trump’s manipulations.

At the Seahawks’ media availability the following week, Sherman offered his view without rancor or recrimination.

“We’re trying to make people understand that this world and this country is for everybody — we’re all American,” Sherman said. “Sometimes our president gets into the we-and-them kind of conversations. Sometimes you wonder, who is we and who is them?

“This time, he was talking regarding NFL players. When you’re president and you’re talking about fellow Americans, you always have to say we, or you become divisive. When your supporters continue to press that rhetoric, and then they say others are divisive because they reacted to that, you get to the problems we have today.”

Sherman offered a thoughtful, clear observation about the strategy of division over reconciliation that often had gone unexpressed in the national debate. The reason Sherman’s point resonated with me is because in my time covering sports, it was always plain that a meritocracy independent of race or ethnicity had been allowed to flourish in sports as nowhere else in American culture. And Trump attacked it.

Since the NFL workforce is 70 percent African-American and was overwhelmingly so in the protests, Trump was calling black athletes unpatriotic. It was as wrong as it was reckless, but it helped the NFL turn on itself over the coming weeks, pitting fans against players, owners and coaches against players, players against players and sponsors against players.

Popular industry damaged. Mission accomplished.

Sherman didn’t have to address the matter; he could have talked ball. And in the cavalcade of Shermanian rhetoric over seven years, the moment may have been little noted. But his observation struck me as the kind of understanding found rarely in athletes, or among people of any profession, age or standing.

It was a gratifying, enlightening moment, one that should not go unrecognized in the tributes coming Sherman’s way for his time in Seattle. I will miss him for that kind of analytical curiosity and insight that enlivened the Seattle jock conversation.

That doesn’t mean I agreed with everything Sherman said or did. I do believe Friday’s news that Sherman was released was not based purely on issues of salary cap and health. I do believe a part of it is that Sherman talked his way out of town.

Not over issues of race or politics or culture wars. It was more simple than that: Sherman wore people out.

Being right was not simply a preference; it was an imperative for Sherman. He was so certain of himself that he had no compunction about dressing down his coaches publicly on the field. His best friend on the team, Stanford buddy Doug Baldwin, has had some of the most uproarious arguments with him.

Some day down the road, over beers, some of the assistant coaches might say that Sherman occasionally drove them bats. The same could be said of Marshawn Lynch. Happens with superstar players in all sports, artists of all stripes, and CEOs of all kinds (hi, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates!).

The mere fact that a year ago, without prompting, Carroll and general manager John Schneider said Sherman was on the trade block tells all one needs to know about the tension in the organization. In light of Friday’s development, in which the Seahawks gained nothing from Sherman’s departure except salary cap relief, it now looks like an opportunity missed.

Do not divine from that characterization that Sherman is a jerk. On the contrary, he is among the funniest, warmest, most accommodating athletes I’ve been around. The best tell regarding that is how much time and wisdom he shared with young players, some of whom were out for his job and all of whom adored him.

Sherman is not a perfect guy. He’s a little complicated. Just like, well, us.

He did his job at the highest level possible in the NFL, knew it and wasn’t ashamed to say so. He feared no one, including Trump and Carroll, and could laugh at it all. Any reasonably informed NFL fan is pulling like crazy for Sherman to show up in his or her town.

He once said last year to a group of reporters in the locker room that it was our privilege to be able to talk with him, and that we would all miss him when he’s gone. We snickered, rolled our eyes and shook our heads.

Damn it. He was right. Again.


  • Ron

    He’ll miss Seattle, and the Seahawks when he’s gone.

    • art thiel

      He was good for the Seahawks, and the Seahawks were good for him. Wherever he goes, nothing will be like his first team. True in all sports most of the time.

      • Ron

        He didn’t waste time or shop around. Guess he missed the Bay area.

  • Effzee

    My favorite Seahawk ever.

    • Husky73

      Some people just make it hard, and must be loved from a distance. That sums up my feelings as a fan regarding Sherman. I wish him well.

      • art thiel

        Well put.

    • art thiel

      That’s saying something, Eff. A tough week for many.

  • Husky73

    Great job, Art. This column should be a must read….for Richard Sherman.

    • art thiel

      I think he has a few other things on his mind, but thanks.

      • Husky73

        Seriously, I think this young man (just 30) could find some valuable insights and life lessons by reading this, and apply them in the coming years. He is an intelligent and good hearted person with great potential in the 50 years he’ll have after football.

  • Tim

    Beautiful column Art. I still can’t believe it. I will miss him so much and will celebrate his success wherever he finds both on the field as well as in life. Thank you Richard. You have elevated everyone’s game here in the Northwest.

    • art thiel

      Thanks, Tim. I’m sure we’ll be hearing from Sherman for a long while.

  • DJ

    Class all around – article, athlete and journalist. Nicely done Art!

    • art thiel

      Appreciate it, DJ. This may sound odd, but Sherman reminds me of Lou Piniella. Brilliant, passionate, and a little self-destructive. Both larger than life.

  • Freiboth

    Great journalism, Arthur. You and Skip Berger offer the citizens of lesser Seattle the most insightful and thought provoking commentary since Emmett Watson. I too will miss Sherm …

    • Theyfinallyfiredcable

      Emmett Watson . Man I miss that guy …

      • Husky73

        Upon being cut from the baseball team, Emmett Watson (a catcher) asked the manager for a parting compliment. The manager thought and said, “You have a good squat.”

    • art thiel

      Thanks. Honored to be in the same sentence with those two.

  • coug73

    Blue Friday Blues. Sherman is a gladiator and he’s earned his place in the HOF. Heal and return Sherman.

    • art thiel

      Lots of heartbreak around this burg, and beyond.

  • Theyfinallyfiredcable

    Well done Art , I saw Danny O’Neil wrote a tribute to him as well , but yours is far more eloquent . The man will forever be entrenched in Seahawks lore . I used to have that poster of Kenny Easley “The Enforcer” decades ago on my living room wall . Wish there was a comparable one of RS …

    .. and for God’s sakes Richard , do us 12’s a solid and please don’t sign with the Niners or Patriots !

    • art thiel

      Thanks. I thought of Easley this week too. His Seahawks career lasted seven years before his health gave out. Hoping Sherman lasts far longer, wherever he goes.

    • Ron

      He signed with the 49ers, $39 million over three years.

  • rosetta_stoned

    Sure. Blame Trump for calling out players who started this nonsense under Obama.

    Makes sense.

    • art thiel

      I knew you’d see the column only one way.

      • Bayview Herb

        As you do, too.

    • Theyfinallyfiredcable

      I find it fascinating – and tragically sad – that ‘patriotic’ Trump supporters think it’s “nonsense” that some Americans choose to exercise their right to non-violent protest . Obama has nothing to do with it . It’s called the Bill of Rights .

  • jafabian

    Richard is a very special player and person. A rare athlete who can express themselves at the utmost on and off the field. Michael Bennett is the same. Props the the Seahawks management and coaching staff for allowing the players the opportunities to grow in all directions. I don’t believe any other team would allow such freedoms.

    If the Seahawks released Richard I’m interpreting that as him declining to work out restructuring his contract. Or he didn’t like what the club offered which is his right. He’s too good and skilled a player to not garner interest from other teams but it will be interesting to see what kind of contract he can command. When all is said and done he’ll see his name and number in the Ring of Honor. I’m looking forward to seeing where he goes in his career when his playing days are over. In Olympia maybe??

    • art thiel

      He felt he deserved his $11M, and that they should be patient on him. But the Seahawks are in a football crisis that required urgency. Conflict was inevitable.

      Sherman may well aspire someday to elective office, but I don’t see him doing well with the typical constraints politicians must accept. But if he does, he’ll seek a national platform. He already has it.

      • jafabian

        I’m just hoping this isn’t Randy Johnson all over again. It’d be frustrating to see him become an All-Pro again while wearing a Ninets uniform.

  • Bayview Herb

    A fine piece from a younger leftist group of journalists. I grew up during WW 11 we had a different take on patriotism. It was unconditional. For these pampered millionaire athletes to believe that theri physical talents in any way give them special insights to social justice. What is ironic, is that while the majority of his race that is downtrodden brought it on themselves, These success stories in sports do not speak to the street punks who make no effort to better themselves other than selling drugs and forming gangs.

    • Ron

      Ho do you feel about pampered republican billionnaire donors imposing their view of social justice on America?

      Let me tell you about patriotism. I served in the Navy for three years during the Jimmy Carter years. I volunteered, when service was really volunteering, not a paying job like it is today. The Navy screwed me over, plus gave me a permanent disablity along with an honorable discharge. I also served the state of Washington for 10 years.

      If people want to bring attention to social injustice in this country, let it be.

      Patriotism isn’t about you or your race as republican’s interpret it. It’s about love for or devotion to one’s country, which includes improving it and making it better for all Not just the wealthy.

    • Bruce McDermott

      Their status as Americans gives them the right to speak their minds about “social justice.” To say things others may not want to hear. Didn’t start with them, won’t end with them. It’s as American as apple pie. Last thing we want is others defining “patriotism” for us.

      • art thiel

        +1 to you Bruce.

    • Husky73

      I have read your post three times. I have no idea what you are attempting to communicate,

      • Tman

        He clearly communicates:
        1. He does not know a Nazi when he sees one.
        2. He thinks blacks jumped on board slave ships to seek a better life in Mississippi.

    • Tman

      Since when is “Liberty and Justice for All” a left wing idea?

    • John M

      Come on, Herb, love of country can be unconditional, not love of political “rightism.” Unless of course you voted for Trump, then I could better understand your attitude . . .

    • art thiel

      Herb, your reckless generalities are embarrassing.

  • Tman

    Courage and grace are a treasure to witness.

    I remember Richard Sherman working with the youth in Compton, California and playing hurt half the season, leaving the field after his Achilles injury.

    I remember Pete Carroll walking through the toughest neighborhoods in LA inspiration to all he met along the way.

    You see the ease and warmth of Richard Sherman as he honors Pete Carroll for doing just that in this clip:

    You see it in Michael Bennett’s response, with other players, to police violence and actions needed to stop the violence in their message to the NFL printed in full here by Art Thiel.

    We are blessed to have been witness to many instances of grace and courage during the rise of Russell Wilson and the Seahawks these past 7 years.

    Thank you all.

  • ll9956

    Excellent article, Art.

    Like so many others, regardless of what the hard-boiled, practical business considerations may be, I will miss Sherman a lot. I agree with those who see him as the heart and soul of the Seahawks–despite all of his imperfections. This is truly the end of an era.

    I could be mistaken, but in my gut Sherman’s departure gives me bad vibes. I was thinking: What if he signs with a team which is a Seattle opponent? And now that’s exactly what has happened. I can picture him making a full recovery and playing at or near the level of past years. I can also picture him pulling off a pick-six against the Hawks, which turns out to be a game-winner. If that should happen, Carroll and Schneider will have 10 tons–maybe 1000 tons–of egg on their faces. It will not be pretty.

  • Bruce McDermott

    I will miss his intelligence, his devotion to his teammates, and his indomitable will to win.
    The chip on his shoulder sometimes led him to dark places, and I’ll miss that a little less, but c’est la vie…

    Fare thee well, Richard. Long may you run. In life, and on most Sundays :)

    • art thiel

      Well said, Bruce. The Seahawks empire is diminished by his departure, and Seattle sports has lost a rare dude.

    • Husky73

      Bruce…excellent Neil Young reference.

  • Parts

    Good stuff as usual sir. I’m thinking maybe you’re both right.

    • art thiel

      Indeed, it is possible to have nuance, subtlety and contradiction in evaluating a player’s long-term contribution.

  • 1coolguy

    It makes sense that John Lynch – fellow DB, fellow Stanford grad – would go hard after Sherman, as it accomplished 3 things: Hurts a division rival, helps a poor secondary and establishes a proven veteran with the chops to raise up the rest of the team.
    Sherm was to the D what RW is to the O – indispensable.
    I wish the Hawks had a similar GM…………….
    Harvin, Graham and now Sherm – quite a resume you’re building John!

    Another fine column Art – thank you

    • art thiel

      Forgot about Lynch’s Stanford DB history. He took a risk, but it’s done basically to be a one-year deal. Very team-friendly deal.

  • John M

    Great work, Art. Yeah, I stuck up for Richard in this space. I loved his passion. An unusual guy – I would even have forgiven him the blowups with coaches if he’d only gone to see Doug’s hair stylist. Anyway, somewhere Mike Crabtree is laughing . . .

    • art thiel

      I think you should go to Richard’s stylist. You’d look great in dreads.

      • John M

        At this point I’d take ’em . . .