What’s Eating Richard Sherman?

shermannEight weeks ago, right before Halloween, a six-foot-three-inch, dreadlocked Harry Potter stepped to the podium at the Seattle Seahawks’ practice facility and delivered a weekly press conference on behalf of defensive back Richard Sherman. From the cloak to the spectacles to the wand he carried in his hand, the costume was convincing enough that onlookers couldn’t help but laugh.

How many professional athletes could have this much fun with their obligatory meeting with the press? How many celebrities would subject themselves to the silliness of a holiday for children by dressing up as a character from their favorite fantasy novel? This was Richard Sherman at his most human and his very best – charming, hilarious, witty, and fun.

Fast forward two months and that version of Sherman has all but disappeared. The once-endearing individual we remember has departed, leaving something a bit grouchier and more contentious behind. The transition has been marked by a pair of on-field outbursts that have spared nary a coordinator, offensive or defensive, and a caustic exchange with a reporter in which the sixth-year pro threatened to “ruin” a career.

This isn’t the Richard Sherman we know and love. Sure, he has always been edgy. But even at his edgiest, Sherman never did more than toe the line of indecency. Up until now, his greatest transgressions throughout an illustrious career have included trash-talking a worthy adversary in Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (then later posting a meme of the encounter online) and subsequently trash-talking again, this time into a microphone held by Fox sideline reporter Erin Andrews. Beyond that, there hasn’t been much of anything to criticize.

Nevertheless, football fans across the globe have found a variety of reasons to loathe the Stanford product, anyway. He can be loud, boisterous, and often overconfident. That doesn’t always sit well with the more conservative traditionalists who follow the game. As a result, Sherman has persisted on sports talk shows and in print as a lightning rod for controversy, no matter how contrived.

In the Pacific Northwest, however, fans have had a front row seat for the Richard Sherman Show. Despite what the outside world may choose to believe, Seattleites are well aware of the person to whom they’ve paid witness. The tone of Sherman’s antics has always been whimsical, loose, and good-natured. The attitude has never been antagonistic, and in many cases the only butt of any joke made has been Sherman, himself. He has been self-deprecating, humorous, and engaging all at the same time. This has been his party, and everyone else has had an open invitation.

Lately, though, that tone has changed.

Even the most ardent Seahawks supporters have had a hard time dismissing Sherman’s in-game outbursts as bouts of emotion. Playing with passion is one thing; having to be physically restrained from attacking a coach is another. And although this is the environment that the organization has cultivated – one that allows each individual to express themselves accordingly – the boundaries of that culture have seemingly been tested this season by one of the team’s brightest stars.

In responding to questions about his latest sideline flare-up on Tuesday afternoon, Sherman handled each inquiry with relative aplomb – that is, until 710 ESPN radio host Jim Moore asked one final time about Sherman’s run-in with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Perhaps it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as it prompted a strong reaction from the cornerback, one that led to Sherman insisting he could “ruin” Moore’s career. It was unlike anything anyone had seen before from the All-Pro, and certainly not in line with his previously gregarious personality.

On Tuesday evening, Sherman shared remorse for his conduct via Twitter, stating, “I appreciate the role the media plays and they have a tough job. I let it get personal today and I regret that. Next one should be fun.”

It was a rare moment of candid humility from someone who has frequently expressed anything but. And while it won’t quiet all the talk of his behavior that is sure to erupt in the coming days, it’s a step in the right direction towards returning to the once-affable Sherman we used to know.

Somewhere beneath an altering tenor that has gone from inclusive to divisive, the Richard Sherman with whom everyone could laugh and relate still exists. Now it’s just a matter of finding him.

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