by Glenn Nelson
It’s time to bring Richard Sherman home. And by “home” I mean the Seattle Seahawks, especially, but also possibly the San Francisco 49ers or one of the two NFL teams representing Los Angeles, where Sherman grew up. Any place, that is, where he can get the kind of hug he obviously needs — and deserves.
Mine might not be a popular stance, given recent events and Sherman’s fraught history with the Hawks. It might even surprise those who know me best, because I’ve not exactly been the president of the future Hall of Fame cornerback’s fan club. Which, in turn, may surprise the handful who remember my positive history with players considered “troubled” during my long tenure as an NBA writer.
In some quarters, Sherman, 33, already had been deemed as irredeemable, even before the series of events that led to his being charged Friday morning by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office with five misdemeanors, two of which are associated with domestic violence. He pleaded not guilty to all five charges during an appearance before King County District Court Judge Lisa Paglisotti on Friday afternoon.
Sherman said in a statement that he was “deeply remorseful” for his actions on (early) Wednesday. Those included trying to force his way into his in-laws’ home in Redmond, which was documented in a surveillance video gone viral. In a tape of a 911 call, Ashley Moss, Sherman’s wife, is heard describing her husband as “drunk and belligerent” and threatening to kill himself.
“I behaved in a manner I am not proud of,” Richard Sherman said in his statement. “I have been dealing with some personal challenges over the last several months, but that is not an excuse for how I acted. The importance of mental and emotional health is extremely real and I vow to get the help I need.”
Sherman should get help with that help and not, as a blemished, unsigned free agent, be kicked permanently to the sidelines. He may have more means than most, but he and his immediate family can’t possibly muster the objectivity, resources, and infrastructure of an NFL team which in a way is a source of his turmoil. Besides, it’s time that the ultra-capitalistic and -capitalizing professional sports world step up to the challenges of mental health, a shortcoming laid bare last month by tennis star Naomi Osaka at the French Open.
The sports world has invested millions of dollars shaping and sharpening the intellect into a weapons-grade arsenal to wield on fields or courts of play. That emphasis has, in turn, hardened a time-honored taboo of revealing mental strife, considered the most egregious crack in an elite athlete’s armor.
It is, after all, mental acuity and toughness, and not physical prowess, that most impacts the hierarchy of athletic achievement.
I covered the NFL for one season — 1989, Steve Largent’s last — and hated it. My first story on the beat was an investigation into the circumstances that led to Hawks great Kenny Easley’s kidney failure. I found and wrote about actuarial tables showing that NFL players lived considerably shorter lives than the rest of American society. Some 30 years ago, no one cared or paid attention to that sort of thing. That congealed in me the sense that football chewed up its players, spit them out, and unceremoniously replaced them when rendered useless. The fact that most of those players were Black made the culture even more reprehensible; the last thing BIPOC people need is another reminder of how dispensable we are regarded.
One of the NFL’s dirty little secrets is that every front office’s worst nightmare is the period between spring team activities and training camp (aka, now). Players have time to kill beyond their teams’ protective bubbles, so summer can be police blotter season in professional football. Incidents involving players like Richard Sherman or another former Seahawk, Frank Clark, who was charged a week ago with felony possession of an assault weapon, are only the ones high profile enough to trend in public awareness.
And we continue to ignore the reasons.
Coincidentally, I have been binge-watching episodes of “All American” on The CW. The series is inspired by the life of a former NFL player — not Sherman, but it could have been. The main character is based on Spencer Paysinger, who grew up in South L.A. (like Sherman) but went to high school in posh, white Beverly Hills (Sherman attended posh, white Stanford University).
The show highlights the pressures borne by Black athletes lugging baggage from the ‘hood and expected to perform and conform in a white-supremacist society. We’ve seen the scenario time and time again: the pressure of being a Black man or woman in America, coupled with the pressure of seizing an opportunity to rise out of challenging circumstances and the pressure of lifting family along and navigating all the other outreached hands from your past. All of which unfolds on the beat of unrelenting physical trauma and public scrutiny.
My issues with Sherman were as a teammate in the most necessarily team-oriented of sports. He betrayed his inner sanctum with persistent, over-the-top remonstrations that heavily braked the Seahawks from moving on from their devastating, interception-at-the-goal-line loss to New England in Super Bowl XLIX. There’s also little question that he was a leader in the anti-Russell Wilson element that teemed early in the quarterback’s career.
I wasn’t in those Seahawks locker rooms then, but I’ve been in enough with similar personalities and issues to recognize the signs.
Yet I still stand with Richard Sherman. Maybe all of those were red flags. And it’s on us, the Seahawks, and the NFL for overlooking them.
Back in the day, I had the trust of many NBA players who’d been impulsively labeled as “petulant” or worse. I was the first to hear Dennis Rodman’s story of sitting in his pickup truck with a shotgun in the Detroit Pistons’ parking lot in the middle of the night. John Lucas gave me intimate, outrageous details about his drug addiction. And, off the top of my head, there also were Gary Payton and Vincent Askew on their worst days, Vernon Maxwell, J.R. Rider, Rasheed Wallace — all of whom talked to almost no other reporter.
All of them had been written off as problematic and mostly prejudged as intellectually deficient. On the contrary, I found them sharp, entertaining, and engaging. They all had hearts of gold and didn’t want anyone else to know, maybe fearing the betrayal of a façade of toughness that served them well in competition.
I don’t know Sherman, but professional athletes live such a public life these days that I feel like I do. He has been applauded for selflessly mentoring young players here and in San Francisco. He has been a leader for racial justice, among many other things in and outside the NFL. He no doubt has grown since his first stint with Seattle. Moreover, he is a pillar of this community through his family foundation, Blanket Coverage, and his personal interactions. Ashley Moss told The Seattle Times that Sherman is a good father and husband who didn’t harm anyone during his break from reality, and I don’t have reason to doubt her.
In other words, Sherman is exactly the kind of person you embrace, not discard. The NFL is infamously unsentimental — focused on demand and supply and players are just widgets. At his age and diminished physicality, Sherman is not exactly a covetable free agent. But even if he never intercepts another pass, makes another open-field tackle, or anchors another Legion of Boom, the Seahawks should bring back the man, if not the player. He gave us the best of times and it’s only right that we have his back during what’s maybe his worst.
It’s time to dispel the idea of mental health as stigmatic and time to wrap our arms around creating sustainable support systems.
It’s time for Richard Sherman to come home. Hug him, help him, and rebuild him as an asset. It’s the least that other industries would do for privileged white creatives like Jeffrey Toobin, who somehow are rationalized as temporarily having lost their way.
Glenn Nelson, a contributing columnist, is a Japanese American journalist and lifetime South Seattle resident who founded trailposse.com and has won numerous national and regional awards for his writings about race. Follow him @trailposse on Twitter or @thetrailposse on Instagram.
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