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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Why I Dislike Richard Sherman (But Am Open to Changing My Mind)

At least 3 years before I turned pro, I began to learn the line between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. And if I (or one of my teammates when I was at bat) crossed that line (i.e., if we broke one of baseball's spoken or unspoken rules), then the next pitch would be thrown at my head (or, on occasion, my knees). And you haven't lived until you've had a 90 to 95 mph fastball thrown at your head. It has a way of teaching you right from wrong, what is just and unjust, what is professional an unprofessional. That's why I have little patience with any professional athlete who behaves unprofessionally. They should know better. If I could learn how do to it when I was a collegiate athlete, they should be able to do so as professionals, especially when they're getting paid millions of dollars a year.

Breaking the unspoken rules of baseball is probably the reason why A-Rod is disliked by other professional baseball players. It isn't because he took PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) and lied about it; indeed, there was a time when somewhere between 50-75 percent of major league players were using PEDs and lying about it. Rather, it's because  he continually broke the unspoken rules of baseball, like when he ran across the mound when the A's Dennis Braden was pitching ("The Dallas Braden/Alex Rodriguez Feud Continues"). As Braden noted,
The Yankees are an extremely classy organization with guys who always tend to do the right thing every time; it’s kind of disheartening to see that not show through or be reflected by somebody of (Rodriguez’s) status... He’s a tremendous player and a tremendous talent, and I don’t care if I’m Cy Young or the 25th man on a roster; if I’ve got the ball in my hand and I’m out there on that mound, that’s not your mound. You want to run across the mound? Go run laps in the bullpen. That’s my mound.
The widespread dislike of snowboarder Shaun White by his fellow snowboarders makes me wonder if something similar has occurred in his case. I don't think his and A-Rod's cases are entirely comparable. A-Rod is just one of many superstars in baseball whereas Shaun White is and has been the premier snowboarder in the world for several years now, which is why I can't help but think that some of the animosity is rooted in jealousy. Nevertheless, where there's smoke, there's usually (but not always) fire, which suggests that the widespread dislike of White has some basis in reality.

My dislike of unprofessionalism extends beyond athletes. There was a time when the Seattle Seahawks was my second favorite professional NFL team and Pete Carroll was my favorite college football coach. But when Carroll left USC holding the bag with numerous recruiting violations that occurred under his watch for a $6.7 million contract with the Seahawks, I stopped being a Carroll (and a Seahawks) fan ("What was Pete Carroll's part in the USC scandal?"). He's clearly a great football coach, and players love to play for him, but I just can't root for a guy who takes the money and runs just as the NCAA sanctions the college football program he oversaw. It's unprofessional. It's unethical. But apparently, I'm in the minority in this regard. Nevertheless, when he steps down as coach, I'll start rooting for the Seahawks again.

Which brings me to Richard Sherman. I disliked Sherman long before his post game rant after this year's NFC Championship game. A certain amount of showmanship and trash talk is to be expected and is fine, but there's a point where it crosses the line and becomes unacceptable. For instance, when Terrell Owens was playing for the 49ers and after scoring a touchdown, he pulled a Sharpie from out of his sock, signed the football, and handed to a fan, I thought that was funny. But when after the Niners beat the Dallas Cowboys in Dallas, and he ran to midfield and placed the football on the 50 yard line, he crossed the line (and I stopped being a fan). And I think Sherman has crossed the line multiple times, not just against the Niners but against other teams as well (e.g., "Tom Brady slams Richard Sherman for taunting Michael Crabtree").

The "good news" is that just like professional baseball, professional football has its "means" for enforcing appropriate behavior. I'm fairly confident that if Sherman doesn't dial it back, his career will be far shorter than it should be. He'll become the victim of an "accidental" crack-back block (or something similar) that will end his career prematurely.

That would be a shame because he's such a talented athlete. I don't think that's what he wants, which is why I believe he'll probably tone things down from here on out. At least I hope so. Indeed, the fact that he recognized that his behavior after the NFC Championship game was inappropriate (he apologized -- which was refreshing, unlike several of his defenders who tried to rationalize it away) gives me hope that he'll enjoy a long career in the NFL.

He wouldn't be the first to do so. I remember how when Niner tight end, Vernon Davis, first came into the league, he was as big of jerk as Sherman. But the Niner coach at the time, Mike Singletary, shamed Davis by sending him to the locker room midway through a game, and since that time Davis has been a completely different player. Singletary appears to have worked similar magic (although I'm not sure how) with Michael Crabtree who was a spoiled brat when he first arrived in the NFL (although I think the jury's still out on him). Thus, I have hope for Richard Sherman. If I (and Vernon Davis) can learn what the right thing to do is, so can Sherman.

P.S. As an aside, Mike Singletary may not have been a good head coach, but he was (and is) a great assistant coach. A consummate professional when he was a player, he appears to know how to turn talented brats into talented professionals.

P.S.S. I have less hope for Richie Incognito, who appears to be entirely unrepentant of his treatment of teammate Jonathan Martin. This isn't the first time Incognito has had disciplinary problems. He had several when playing at Nebraska where he was suspended for multiple "anger management" incidents, and after transferring to the University of Oregon, he only lasted a week before he was kicked off the team. And in 2013, he was selected as the NFL's dirtiest player ("NFL's Dirty Dozen"), which is not the first time he has made the list.

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