This is a sports story, the kind of thing that almost never appears here. It is also a fairly negative story, aimed at individuals, which is something I have NEVER done here, except to and about people who have become sell-outs to Anheuser Busch when offered a big payday for their breweries.
But the people named here are public figures, not the struggling, scuffling owners of American small businesses, not nobly engaged in a back-breaking, 24/7/365 Quest for success against almost impossible odds, and with no fanfare, no ego-stroking, and vacations to Italy or Aruba; no Lambos or Maseratis or yachts or mansions. These people asked for the criticism they receive. They practically begged for it and have consistently stuck out their chins and dared critics to take their shots.
But something has been left unsaid, here, in the wake of their off-season actions toward the Seattle Seahawks and especially toward US, the 12 Nation, and the values and paradigm that built into the ultimate frenzy and joyous release of a city which has been a historic also-ran in any celebrations of pro sports championships. That release was the unreal spectacle of unleashing decades of frustration on a frigid, windy, forbidding February day in 2014, when a millions of us turned out to welcome home the Super Bowl XLVIII Champions, The Seattle Seahawks.
This is about that dream realized, those values which got them there, and how all of that proved empty and hollow When Push Came To Shove.
Before Richard Sherman’s Critical Error, I was his biggest apologist. NO athlete was closer to my heart than him, with the sole exceptions of Edgar Martinez and Sherman’s Stanford running mate, Doug Baldwin. I once spent two solid days, locked in a fierce Facebook battle with a fatheaded Washington winemaker who flatly refused to look beyond Sherman’s skin color and dreadlocks and his famous post-game outburst against Michael Crabtree. To this guy, Sherman was not the kid who clawed and scratched his way out of the Compton ghetto, graduated with honors from one of the country’s most prestigious egghead institutions, and transformed himself, by sheer force of Will, into one of the greatest athletes to ever play his position in the NFL. He was, to use this fool’s words, “just a punk“. He refused to budge off that position, I refused to accept his dismissive ‘Tude. I eventually blocked him and got on with my life.
But with one chuckling, off-hand remark, in a stand-up TV interview on a cold day in December of 2016, Sherman inadvertently revealed just how empty all of his rhetoric about “my teammates are my family” and “playing for my brothers” had become:
Asked about an unplanned team meeting, in the final weeks of the 2016 season, Sherman laughed it off, saying, ““It happens every year at different times,” he said. “It’s always Pete (who calls them). We all go into the kumbaya meeting room…” Asked if good comes from them, he said, “They’re effective, hearing a different element from some guys. Older guys have seen it for years. It gives the younger guys something different.”
The flaw in Sherman’s thinking was immediately stark and shocking. “They’re effective…” he says but then immediately invalidates the process with all those younger players, just coming into the league, who look to veteran stars like him and Michael Bennett for an example of professionalism and maturity and Belief and dedication. What Sherman has forgotten, in his gradual decline into almost total self-absorption, is that the “kumbaya stuff” works. It is exactly that, in fact, which accounts for the reality that Sherman – a late-round, uncelebrated, converted wide receiver-turned-cornerback draftee who had generated just about zero interest from 31 other NFL teams – is now one of the NFL’s most recognizable names and biggest stars. He literally does, in fact, owe his multi-million dollar contracts and Super Bowl bling and massive fame and the fact of having any public platform for his views at all to that “kumbaya stuff“. He owes ALL that to a semi-mystical belief system that served Carroll so well for over a decade at USC and miraculously took the perennial bridesmaid that was the Seahawks (and, by extension, the city of Seattle) from wallflower to the hottest bride ever to walk away with a Lombardi Trophy.
So, the question becomes, why would Richard Sherman, who has always described himself as a team leader, and All-Pro defensive tackle Michael Bennett (who described himself as the same but dismissed Carroll’s coaching system by telling a room full of reporters that he used to “read books during those meetings”) deliberately undercut Carroll’s proven system of team-building with a team full of younger players, all desperate for the same success that Sherman and Bennett have achieved?
Answer: I don’t think it was deliberate, in either case. I’n fairly certain that neither one thought, “If I do this, it will torpedo the very core of this team’s success.” I think fame and money and a ravening need to color outside the lines caused both men to overlook What Got Them There and sink into a self-involvement that was diametrically opposed to their coach’s system and values. Both are correct in insisting that they have a right to their views and Carroll has been unfailingly supportive of the right of players to be people, too. Can anyone imagine Sherman or Bennett popping off in a New England Patriots press room and still having a job the next week?
“Everybody can be who they are within the scheme of the Seahawks and what we want to do.” – Richard Sherman
Pete Carroll is not stupid. He saw those remarks for the howling contradiction they are. And Pete believes in his system because of the two national titles, the seven consecutive PAC-10 championships, and the Lindy’s “Coach of the Decade” title that he won while at USC and the string of division titles and two consecutive Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl XLVIII in February of 2014, that mark his current NFL tenure. Pete Carroll’s “kumbaya stuff” has actually translated to the NFL…and Sherman and Bennett – by actions which are watched like, well, ‘Hawks by younger players seeking to emulate them – ridiculed that system and betrayed every syllable of their commitment to “team first” and “my Brothers” and the “leadership” that they both claimed…right up to the moment when their glutes were impacted by the VMAC’s big glass doors.
Sherman, in his true Me-first way, his doubled down on his anger and hurt at being released by the Seahawks by signing with their division rival, the San Francisco Forty-Niners, and ridiculing the guy who made it possible for him to have his entire NFL career, fame, and $$$. In a rapid-fire series of interviews, this oracle of NFL knowledge sat and actually said, “I don’t think Pete’s system really works all that well in the NFL. I think it’s meant for for college.”
Seemed to work awfully damned well for you, Richard…at least until you put Richard Sherman above your team, your “brothers”, and reality.
Pete Carroll’s system has proven all of his critics dead-wrong. When he was announced as the Seahawks’ new coach, hundreds of NFL pundits almost unanimously opined that his methods just wouldn’t work with grown men who are getting paid to play. It was too much idealism, too much mysticism, too much reliant on belief and naivete and “Good Vibrations”. It was too touchy-feely and wasn’t sustainable because of exactly what happened with Sherman and Bennett: you can’t sell this shit for long. All suggested that Carroll was only able to sustain that belief because his team changed every new school year.
What all the experts failed to note was that Carroll, in college, could only possibly retain players for 4 years of eligibility. According to the NFL Players Association, the average career length is about 3.3 years. Somehow Carroll’s USC players managed to maintain their belief in their system for longer than an average NFL career. Yeah, they were younger men but they’re not stupid, these days. These products of the social media generation and instant communications and a far smaller world continued to believe because they saw the results. Results – rings, championships, fame, respect, security and success – are powerful evidence of the legitimacy of a coaching system…unless you cease to listen.
“The average NFL career lasts 3.3 years, according to the NFL Players’ Association; 78 percent of players go broke within three years of retirement and 15.7 percent file for bankruptcy within 12 years of leaving the league, according to a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.”
In the wake of Seattle’s first major sports championship since the Sonics won the NBA crown in 1979, several commentators did have the integrity to admit that, yes, we were wrong and here’s the proof. But the main reaction was a howling silence on the order of a still summer night in Siberia. Pundits hate to be wrong and the sulking after the Seahawks thrashed the greatest offense in NFL history registered on the Richter scale.
What Sherman and Bennett both failed to realize was that Carroll, not them, is responsible for determining the direction and philosophy of the team. HIS job is on the line and his Out is not just asking for a trade. He was entrusted with the responsibility for setting the tone and maintaining harmony and instilling Belief. And anyone who would seek to invalidate that has to go. If either of these guys thought Paul Allen would take their opinions and values over those of his Super Bowl Championship coach, they now have their answer.
Leadership does NOT just mean answering questions and being available to mentor teammates. It also means upholding the program and supporting your own leader. On the field, Sherman’s and Bennett’s contributions will always earn them the respect of Seahawks fans. Off the field, they behaved like tin-plated idiots and self-absorbed jerks.
Bennett has mostly been quiet about the Seahawks, save for a couple of biting remarks when he first landed in Philly. Sherman continues to pop off and display all of his hurt and anger at being released from what he genuinely saw as “his” team. He’s lately said that, when the 49ers play the Seahawks, he will “put on a show“…this after admitting that he signed with a divisional opponent of the Seahawks not because it was the best offer or he even saw it as his best option but because, “I’m vengeful that way.” Richard Sherman, to put it simply, blabbed his way out of a job and a city where he was revered and valued. He has no one but himself to blame – not the Seahawks, not fans who were “burning my jersey” (a claim which not one person has come forward to verify), and not the local sports media. Sherman’s mouth wrote a check his ass couldn’t cash…and now he’s a Forty-Niner, just in time for the decline of his physical skills.
I’m not a part of the Seahawks and I claim no special insight but I think I can speak, in this case, as one of the 12s and probably even for the team and coaches and organization when I say this to Sherman’s petty attitude and threats of what will happen When His Push Comes to The Seahawks’ Shove…
“Bring it on.”