A sell-out crowd of roughly 7,000 fans at Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium attended Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman’s inaugural celebrity softball game.
Sherman’s event drew big names, including Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, along with receivers Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin.
Non-Seattle players of note included Arizona receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts, future Hall of Famer Terrell Owens, Sonics legend Shawn Kemp, and Tacoma natives Lawyer Milloy, Marcus Trufant and Desmond Trufant.
Overseeing it all was replacement official Lance Easley, the referee who signaled touchdown on Tate’s game-winning reception against Green Bay in Seattle’s 14-12 win over the Packers in Week 3 of last season.
The charity softball game raised funds for Home for Heroes – a charity that provides financial assistance to emergency services personnel across the country during times of documented, personal financial need -- and The Richard Sherman Family Foundation, which focuses on helping inner city youth.
“A lot of times what they think is possible is so boxed in because of the limited opportunities they have,” Sherman said, when asked why his foundation is supporting inner city kids. “They don’t have the school supplies. They don’t have the resources they need to be successful as somebody in a suburban neighborhood, a nice neighborhood. So I’m just trying to even out the playing field a little bit, and give them an opportunity and resources they need to be successful.”
The game ended in a 20-20 tie, but Walter Thurmond’s final blast over the fence in a home run competition to break the tie gave the team coached by Wilson the win over Sherman’s team.
Tate, who hit two home runs out of Cheney Stadium during the home run competition, was named the game’s MVP. Tate played baseball at Notre Dame.
Most players stuck around to sign autographs, and Easley, wearing a stripped NFL referee shirt and black shorts, had just as many requests as Seattle players.
Easley said the pull to help the charities involved served as a good reason to attend the game.
“I’m an FCA guy, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, so I’m always involved with young people,” Easley said. “So it’s a double blessing for me to be here. And that’s why I’m here, just to give back.”
Easley talked about dealing with the adversity that has come his way since the Monday Night game at CenturyLink Field last September, which included death threats.
“I have been prepared for it for years, by living a lifestyle that would prepare me for it,” Easley said. “I think in a lot of people’s lives, they hit a crisis, or they get a grey call or something, and if you’re prepared for it, it easier to deal with.
“If you don’t have a foundation and you’re not prepared for it, it’s a lot more difficult. So thank God that my faith, my family and my upbringing – everything that I have had built up, held me up to this whole event.”
Easley said he’s stepped down from officiating since serving as a replacement official, working an occasional high school game last season. He’s written a book, “Making the Call: Living with your decisions”, that will be released in August. And he’s been asked to do about two to three speaking engagements a month.
“I thought it might be my last season officiating when I took the job with the NFL,” Easley said. “I have some other projects that I’m working on. I’m working on a documentary film about high school football officials. I want to try and give people more of an inside look.
“It seems like people know more about the mafia than they do about officiating. We both have a code of silence, but nobody dies in officiating. And they don’t talk. And they’re good people. … I think a positive light should be shined on them.
“We just had an official killed, a soccer official, in Utah here recently, which is tragic. I just wanted to give a face to those people. And just let people know that, ‘Hey, it’s a game. They’re out there, and it’s a no-win situation for officials.”
Here’s how Easley describes the play leading up to Tate’s touchdown catch.
“When I got to the pile both of them were entangled,” he said. “There was no way (to tell who had possession), and you just can’t let them wrestle forever and ever.
“If I regret anything, it’s that I probably should have talked it over a little bit with my partner (Back Judge Derrick Rhone-Dunn). I thought he saw the same thing. But because of the media, and the way they were getting after us every week, and the pressure, I thought to myself, ‘Okay, I know what I have. If talk about it, the media is going to crucify us, like look at those idiots, they don’t know what they’re doing.’
“And previous to that, when they both went up and started to come down, I said to myself, ‘Oh no, this is happening in front of 18 million people on TV, on Monday night. Everybody’s watching this.’ Because I knew how bizarre the play was.’”
Easley believes he now has his Immaculate Reception.
“Players, coaches – all of us fans – we know it’s never happened before,” Easley said. “So I just happen to be stuck in the middle of it. I made a call. It was the correct call, even though Green Bay fans probably will never say it’s correct. But it was a difficult call, and it’s just one you don’t want.”
But even though Easley called it a “grey call”, he still believes that he made the correct decision.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” he said. “I can’t. The NFL upheld it. I’ve looked at plenty of video. I’ve talked to my replay guys, and there was nothing that could turn it over. And the fact is, if you want to say that the defender had control of it in the air – and that’s loosely used, because in the process of a catch you have to have two feet, or another body part, and control of the ball when you touch the ground inbounds – the ball could have come loose anywhere in that process for a second, which nobody could really see, even with all of the cameras.
“If it did, then it’s a loose ball, but it didn’t touch the ground. So if they’re both on it, it goes to the offense. So it was just one of those calls that will live in NFL history.
“It probably will never happen again, just like the Immaculate Reception.”
Asked what he would say to a Green Bay fan who saw him at Sherman’s event, Easley had this to say: “I’m here for charity, and I would do the same for their charities. I have no ill will against any team. I’m not a Seahawks fan. I’m not a Green Bay fan.”
So is this Easley’s 15 minutes of fame?
“I haven’t looked for any of that stuff,” he said. “But it just keeps coming and coming at me. And when I’ve gone and spoken, people here me speak and they want me to speak somewhere else. It’s taken on a life of its own.”