Richard Sherman has had strangers stop him to mention that their son or daughter looks up to him and wants to be a 4.0 student because, before he was an All-Pro cornerback, he was a good student at Dominguez High School in Compton, California, then at Stanford University. Then again, Sherman has also had concerned parents tell him, "Oh, my kid's trash-talking because of you."
What being a high-profile athlete has taught Sherman since he went from fifth-round pick to star cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, is that, for better or worse, he can influence people, and in particular kids with similar backgrounds as his.
"It has its ups and downs, but you understand the power you have as a leader, as an idol for some of these kids, so you try to recognize that and turn it into a positive," Sherman said.
Which brings us to Sherman's regularly-scheduled Wednesday press conference. While addressing the media before taking the field for Seattle's first practice of the week, Sherman hit on the usual topics you might expect—the defense's uncharacteristic struggles in a Week 1 loss, his new role as a part-time nickel corner, Aaron Rodgers' greatness—and being Sherman he cracked a few jokes. But before all of that, Sherman had a message he wanted to get out. It turns out that an online post, claiming to have been written by Sherman, has been gaining traction over the past few days. The post, which recently began circulating on various online news outlets, credited Sherman with a rant against an activist known as "King Noble."
Sherman didn't write the post, but while he could have easily simply said as much and moved on, he instead used his platform as a professional athlete to address some of the topics on race that were brought up in the post claiming to have been his.
"As a black man I do understand that black lives matter," Sherman said. "I stand for that, I believe in that wholeheartedly, but I also think there's a way to go about things and there's way to do things. The issue at hand needs to be addressed internally before move on. From personal experience, living in the hood, living in the inner city, you deal with things, you deal with people dying. I dealt with a best friend getting killed, and it was two 35-year-old black men. There wasn't no police officer involved, there wasn't anybody else involved, and I didn't hear anybody shouting, 'black lives matter' then. That's the point we need to get to, we need to deal with our own internal issues before we move forward and start pointing fingers and start attacking other people. We need to solidify ourselves as a people and deal with our issues, because as long as we have black-on-black crime and one black man killing another… If black lives matter, then they should matter all the time. That's somebody's son, that's somebody's brother, that's somebody's friend, so you should always keep that in mind."
While Sherman's comments addressed everything from black-on-black crime to police brutality, his bigger message was a simple one: "The ignorance should stop. People should realize that at the end of the day, we're all human beings. Before we're black, white, Asian, Polynesian, Latino, we're humans, so it's up to us to stop it."
Sherman doesn't claim to be an expert on race relations, or even the best person to be speaking on this topic, but what he does recognize is that for better or worse, people pay attention to what professional athletes have to say, so if he can do some good with that platform, he's going to take every chance to do so.
"It's important to get that message out there to kids, especially while you have the platform," he said. "I'm just a football player, who am I to say anything? But as long as people are watching, people respect my opinion, I'm going to give it. I think that's incredibly important for people to understand that, at the end of the day, we're humans. Let's celebrate our humanity. You're categorizing people and racially profiling people, but at the end of the day, when we die and our skin decays, our bones look the same. You can't tell if somebody was black, white, Asian, Latino, you don't know what they were. This is the time to end that."
Plenty of athletes stay away from any controversial topic for fear of alienating fans or sponsors who might disagree, but Sherman has never been that kind of athlete, and he wasn't going to on Wednesday when an opportunity came out to speak his mind once again.
"If we did have more guys who spoke up on those kinds of things, I think we'd be in a better place as a society and as a culture," Sherman said. "Especially trying to encourage these kids to stay off the streets, to stay out of gang violence, to stay off these drugs, to stay in school and do your best to come up with the next great idea, be the next entrepreneur instead of some of the goals that these kids have in the inner city. I know from personal experience, they don't have the best influencers, they don't have the bets idols, they don't have the best parents in the household, it's circumstantial."
Sherman's circumstances were better than those of some other people who grew up in his neighborhood, which helped him get to where he is today. And after achieving so much success and fame, he isn't about to shy away from speaking his mind now that his fame affords him an opportunity to reach so many people.
"I'm not scared to be judged," he said. "I'm not afraid to be criticized, I'm OK with who I am."