Richard Sherman, great athlete, even better PR guy

January 27, 2014

I am a big NFL fan, but I admit I knew little about Richard Sherman until last week’s live rant after his team, the Seattle Seahawks, beat the San Francisco 49ers to advance to the Super Bowl. Now, we’re all going to know a lot more about him over the next, say, 20 to 30 years.

JUXTAPOSITION: Whereas Richard Sherman was passionate and meaningful, Erin Andrews — like many in sports — has made a living off the mundane and meaningless. What Erin? Still no news of the athlete who was carted off the field? How are game time temps doing?

In Sherman’s short, passionate outburst and his subsequent follow up, Sherman established himself as a tell-it-like-it-is, in-your-face athlete who’s more genuine and articulate than any of the blathering talking head announcers in sports — especially Erin Andrews, known more for her beauty than brains, who got chewed up and spit out during the tirade.

You can love Sherman or hate him. But you can’t deny his brilliance, not after what he accomplished in the short week following the incident. “Sherman’s March” has allowed him to assert his brand on the biggest sports stage in the world, and make an indelible mark that will follow him throughout his career in sports and life.

While unscripted, what followed was a thinking man’s approach to reputation management. We now know the Richard Sherman brand and backstory. He’s no ordinary athlete, a self-professed outsider who survived Compton and always felt the outcast as a Stanford athlete who actually went to class and read the books.

All week, he smartly played the media to craft his image, appearing alternatively brash and disarming, off-putting and charming. Apologizing at points, he then flipped us off by playing the race card to improve his hand. Richard, I can assure you, my use of the word thug is not racially charged. But I love your passion and attempt. You got my attention. You made a case and controlled the story the entire week. Dude, that’s awesome because I, like the rest of the world, don’t pay attention to much.

Reminds me of the great Muhammad Ali, who shared your uncompromising view of the world and asserted it, be damned offense or outrage or even prison time. If Ali’s sport had not scrambled his brain, Ali would be the premier brand of our age.

And Sherman may, too. Unlike the trumped-up controversies of Cyrus, Bieber, and anyone else desperate for attention in a saturated world, Sherman has a second act — the story in his hip pocket ready to tell. He used his time in the spotlight to command and extend his 15 minutes of fame, perhaps forever, or at least well after retirement from the NFL.

And he’s done it so very well, in a way all public relations professionals can look upon with envy. All too often our clients want high altitude with low amplitude, unwilling to take a stand but eager for attention. Sorry. Worthwhile progress requires risk, as Richard Sherman so artfully demonstrated last week.

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