Richard Sherman knows what’s at stake for the suddenly rolling Seahawks.
Sunday’s home game against the seemingly free-falling San Francisco 49ers (7-6) is the latest roadblock to the roll Seattle (9-4) is building toward the playoffs. The All-Pro cornerback has been a cornerstone to the Seahawks’ revival, with two interceptions and zero passes completed against him during this three-game winning streak.
But Sherman also knows what’s at stake in the society around him.
Professional athletes every day tend to produce the same general tone and perspective on upcoming games, recent games, opposing players, teammates and the like. The words are different, the issues may change. But the depth of insight and tenor of the views are generally the same.
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Then there’s Richard Sherman.
Wednesday, yet again, Sherman was remarkable in putting his personal thoughts into rich, unique words. His most insightful responses during his weekly press conference — the setting in which he mocked the NFL for its “hypocrisy” is a skit with a cardboard cutout of teammate Doug Baldwin two weeks ago — were not about football on the field.
They were on what he sees as each NFL player’s social responsibility in our nation’s ongoing struggle with race relations and police interactions with minorities. In the same vein, Roger Goodell outlined a new personal-conduct policy on Wednesday for an implementation vote by owners in the wake of this summer and fall’s huge Ray Rice domestic violence case.
Sherman was asked if he or Seahawks players might make a public statement or act similarly as others in the NFL and NBA have, such as by wearing “I Can’t Breathe” inscribed on warm-ups shirts before recent games. Those gestures have come after a grand jury in New York and another in Missouri declined to charge white police officers with crimes in the deaths of African-Americans Eric Garner, after a policeman’s chokehold on Staten Island, and Michael Brown, shot while unarmed in Ferguson outside St. Louis.
“It’s something that you talk about (in the locker room). … But everyone has their own choice to make. It’s our duty as a nation to come together in these times and to recognize it,” Sherman said. “I don’t think, I don’t know how one individual gesture or even a team — there are a lot of guys making gestures that are very respectable and send out a message.
“I think that being together and being great role models as players is our duty, is the thing we can do. Not going out there and doing things that aren’t reputable. I think guys that are making a stand are admirable; they are doing a great job. The rest of us could make a stand like that. That would be fantastic. Because everyone should have the rights; no one should walk out and be scared when they walk out of their house. If they aren’t breaking any laws they shouldn’t be fooled with.”
Then Sherman got eloquent. Senatorial, even.
“As a nation, we have our things to clean up,” Sherman said. “Until we get to that point, the best things we can do as players is to be great role models.”
So one of the highest-profile players in the NFL doesn’t feel compelled to make a personal statement on a game day about the issues?
“I feel like every time I try to make a personal statement, people think I am being an individual and trying to bring attention to myself,” he said.
“I think an issue like this, attention has been brought to it, to recognize the players’ statements. The biggest statement I can make is, be true to yourself.
“There shouldn’t be these color lines. Racism … everybody thinks it’s gone. And it’s not. The moment we recognize that as a nation is the moment we step forward — (it’s) the moment we recognize these moments as opportunities to take a step forward and improve our society.
“But, you know, I could say that all day. What difference does it make unless a lot of people change?”
How many professional athletes express social issues it that way?
How many fingers do you have?
Some Seahawks fans have been on social media encouraging the players to take some sort of stance at Sunday’s home game against the 49ers.
Wednesday was the first coach Pete Carroll had heard of this. Carroll said he trusts his players to make the appropriate statements, to speak “from their heart” — if they choose — on these race-police issues.
Carroll’s statement is a glimpse into why guys love playing for him. In the days leading up to the next huge game in the Super Bowl champions’ defense of their title and chances for the postseason, instead of worrying about what other coaches call “distractions,” Carroll is encouraging his players to be themselves. Whatever that ends up meaning Sunday, and beyond.
“The fact there is a call out in the country is totally in order,” Carroll said. “People have very strong feelings about what’s going on, very well-grounded feelings. Everyone wants to see change. Our guys are pretty outspoken guys, and I trust that they speak on behalf of the feelings in their heart and they’ll make whatever decisions that they need to make. And if we need to consult on that, we will.
“It’s a very powerful time right now. It’s a lot going on, and everybody needs to be tuned into what’s going on. I know our guys are. They’re in the conversations; I hear them when we are traveling; these guys are talking about what’s going on around the country. They’re concerned. They are interested, and they’ve got people who are involved in some different places.
“Changing times. Things are going crazy right now.”
Sherman also had some solid logic on Goodell presenting the new personal-conduct policy to the owners for a vote — without negotiation with the players’ union.
“I think it’s interesting any time you make changes to a policy that we collectively bargained and you don’t collectively bargain for it,” the Seahawks representative to the NFL players’ union and an NFL Players’ Association executive council member said. “Like the PA was saying before, it’s one of those do it by the seat of their pants, make it up as you go along (situations).
“You would think — you would hope — that anything having to do with the players, especially discipline and things like that, players would have some say-so in the policy, at least something we could agree on, something that we are comfortable with. But, obviously, that’s not how they saw fit.
“The PA has always been interesting in discussing a change with the league. The league saw it fit to make a change without consulting with the PA.”
For those Seahawks fans worried this is bad timing to be talking like a social activist, the wrong kind of focus from one of their All-Pro leaders days before a game that will help determine their NFC West and postseason fate: Sherman staged his league-shaking skit mocking the NFL for fining teammate Marshawn Lynch for not taking to the media on Nov. 25, two days before the last meeting between Seattle and San Francisco.
That turned out OK for Sherman and his team. The NFL’s leader with 23 interceptions since 2011 had two picks on Thanksgiving night, and the Seahawks throttled the 49ers on their home field 19-3.