Richard Sherman Becomes Catalyst for Communication Reminders

By now, sport fans have watched and read the Richard Sherman rant-heard-the-world multiple times.  Richard Sherman, cornerback of the Seattle Seahawks had just come up with a huge play, which

Final play by 49ers in NFC Championship Game

subsequently sent the Seattle Seahawks on to face the Denver Broncos in the SuperBowl. Unfortunately for Sherman, between that tipped ball and a series of follow-on actions, he’s had to face both severe negativity crossed with undenying support.

SeattleTimes poll shows a fairly even distribution of public reaction:

  • I’m fine with it: He won and can say what he wants  31.7%  (982 votes)
  • I’m disappointed: But I’ll forgive his emotional reaction 37.35%  (1,157 votes)
  • I hated it: It was classless and offensive  31%  (959 votes)

By Monday morning, Sherman begins to explain his tale in a reflective blog where he states, “It was loud, it was in the moment, and it was just a small part of the person I am.”  He continues on with “to those who would call me a thug or worse because I show passion on a football field — don’t judge a person’s character by what they do between the lines.  Judge a man by what he does off the field, what he does for his community, what he does for his family.”

No one’s quite sure what originally sparked the rivalry between Michael Crabtree and Richard Sherman.  Rumored are 1) a trash-talking incident at an offseason charity event hosted by Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald.  2)  A lack of acknowledgement by Crabtree in a pregame interviews about the Sherman-factor.  Crabtree apparently wanted to note that the entire defense is good, not just to worry about 1 individual.  3)  Crabtree’s lack of interest in shaking his hand before the clock had ran out and was simply walking back to his sideline so the defense could come onto the field.

Going over (actually Sherman ran 20 yards to catch up with Crabtree walking to the sideline) to shake a player’s hand, patting him on the butt,  after a huge play, in a huge game — just seems odd.  I’m sure Crabtree was stunned to see him there, and, regrettably, had to push Sherman away.

And, where did this chip-on-Sherman’s-shoulder exactly originate?  Very few dispute his rise to an elite level of cornerbacks in the NFL.  Richard Sherman was a scholarship WIDE RECEIVER at Stanford.   Starting in 2006, he led the football team in receiving and was named a Freshman All-American.  In 2008, he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 4th game of the season.  When Sherman returned from the injury, the team was in need of a cornerback, so his coach, Jim Harbaugh (yes, that Harbaugh), switched him to defense and in his final 2 years where he made 112 tackles and had 6 interceptions.  Sherman graduated from Stanford in 2010 with a degree in communications (yes, communications).  Sherman was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the 5th round of the 2011 NFL Draft, and was apparently livid by the players chosen in front of him, and vowed to become the best cornerback in the game.

So, what lessons can we take away from this championship game?

  1. *Any* public action will always be linked to your team, your employer, your business, your community, regardless of the medium. Richard Sherman received an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty and was “in the coaches office” after the game.  Within 24 hours, Sherman now realizes that while he wanted to make a point, it’s now reflecting negatively on his team and the Seahawk community.
    You know how people write in their social profiles “words are my own”?  While that may sound appropriate, it doesn’t actually mean anything.  If you post something negative, false, or controversial, it will reflect on you and potentially anyone associated with you.
  2. We all get wrapped up in the moment.  Remember to take a deep breath.  Not everyone gets a chance to be on national television right after making a game-winning play.  And, not everyone gets a microphone and a stage to roar from the moment after a huge competitive win.  In every situation, it’s not always about what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it.  A poetic “speech pause” can help you gather your words, reflect, and hence relate better to the audience.
  3. Just because you’re right doesn’t mean you’re right.  We all have those occasions where we would really like to say what’s on our mind.  And, we may even be right.  But, does saying it make those around you happy, focused, understanding, supportive?  Think about how your words and actions will be received.  If there’s a chance they might not be perceived the way you want, probably best to think about rephrasing or keeping the comments to yourself.  If you believe it will be productive to state your mind, make sure you do it privately with those affected, so you can truly have a positive conversation.
  4. Apologies go a long way.  Even with our best intentions, careful thoughts, research, and preparation, things can go off-track.  If the wrong outcome is in front of you as a direct result of your actions, that’s a good time to apologize.  It lets others know you’re accepting responsibility and on a course to goodness.  We’ve all seen many, many examples in social media and communications where individuals or brands stall on accepting responsibility and realize — the sooner the apology, the sooner you can recover.

By Monday afternoon, the day after the big game and with time to reflect, Richard Sherman publicly apologized for his post-game conduct during an interview with Ed Werder of ESPN.  “I apologize for attacking an individual and taking the attention away from the fantastic game by my teammates,” said Sherman. “That was not my intent.”

Very few dispute the fact that Richard Sherman is highly educated, great teammate, supports his community, and loves his family.  I’m glad he apologized and look forward to seeing him set a good example of sportsmanship down the road.  And, I wonder too…what were his professors in the Communications Department at Stanford feeling when that monumental interview began.

[Disclosure – Lifetime 49er and Stanford University Fan.]