Growing up in Compton, California, Richard Sherman witnessed firsthand both how powerful a good education can be, as well as how damaging it is to not have one.
Sherman was fortunate enough to have parents who supported him and his brother, Branton, and encouraged them to take their educations seriously while also making sure their two sons avoided the pitfalls of their neighborhood. With that support, not to mention plenty of intelligence and ability, Sherman went on to be an A-student at Dominguez High School and earn a football scholarship to Stanford.
But Sherman also knows not every child has the support system that he did growing up, which is why he started his foundation, Blanket Coverage, in 2013 with the goal of providing students in low-income communities with school supplies and clothing, as well as encouragement and one-on-one mentorship so that those kids can achieve their goals.
"I have lived first-hand what education can do for you," Sherman said. "I had parents who instilled it in me, and they stayed on me and they stayed diligent about it, and I want to do everything in my power for the kids I meet and the kids I have a chance to reach out to and touch."
For his work in the community, both in the Seattle area and back home in Compton, as well as his outstanding play on the field that has led to three straight first-team All-Pro honors, Sherman is the Seattle Seahawks' nominee for the 2015 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, which is given annually to recognize an NFL player for his excellence on and off the field.
Each of the 32 nominees league wide receives a $5,000 donation to the charity of his choice from the NFL Foundation and Nationwide Insurance. Three finalists for the award are announced in January, with the winner being named during the NFL Honors award show On Feb. 6, the day before Super Bowl 50. Fans can also help Sherman earn even more money for his foundation by using the hashtag #ShermanWPMOYChallenge on any social media platform. The player whose unique hashtag is used the most by December 31, 2015 will receive a $20,000 donation to their charity of choice, courtesy of Nationwide.
"It's always humbling, because you never do it by yourself," Sherman said of being nominated for the award. "You have a vision, a goal, a way you want to help so many people. You want to make impact on people's lives in a positive way, and you really don't know how you're going to make that happen. It takes an amazing team, and I have that. I want to give them all the credit in the world. When you're nominated for an award like this, it's really not just you, it's all the amazing people who have helped you along the way."
While Kevin and Beverly Sherman were there to help guide their kids to success in school, which translated to success in life, Sherman has seen too many times what happens to kids who, for numerous reasons, don't succeed in school. That's why when Sherman decided he wanted to start a foundation, he wanted to focus on helping inner-city kids who remind him of himself in many ways.
"Education is the basis for success," he said. "In order to be amazing and have an amazing career and be successful in this world, you have to have a strong, stable base in school. I think a lot of people miss that, a lot of people miss the bus on that, because in the inner city, it's not something people always focus on. You have a lot of other things to worry about—how you're going to get your next meal? How are you going to even get to school? How you're going to avoid the drugs, how you're going to avoid the gangs. And people lose track of school, it becomes secondary in their minds. And I want to change that, I want to put it at the forefront of their minds and give them a vision that will enable them to go further in life than their parents or their predecessors."
Sherman's foundation, which has received the most attention for its annual celebrity softball game, has not just helped kids with school supplies and clothes, but also Sherman has made a point of staying in touch with kids at schools he has visited. He'll find out from teachers and administrators what kids might need help most and give that student his phone number so they can stay in touch. Long-term, Sherman hopes his foundation will be able to someday provide full college scholarships to students in need.
"I want to see these kids progress and improve academically," he said. "We just want to see these kids grow and progress and further their education to college. That would be a success for me."
Prior to Thanksgiving, Blanket Coverage also worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters to provide $250 Safeway gift cards to families in need. Rather than just hand out frozen turkey, which some people might not have the means to properly prepare, Sherman wanted families to be able to get a meal in whatever way worked best for them.
"It was amazing the reactions we got from those families, how grateful they were to just be able to have that meal," he said. "It really brings into perspective how blessed you are to not have to worry about where your next meal is coming from, what you're going to wear the next day. And those things were a worry for me as a kid. You're happy that you can take that off of them, even if just for a day."
Richard Sherman visited his hometown of Compton, California to talk to kids at Dominguez High School - his alma mater, L.A.'s Verbum Dei High School, and the Brotherhood Crusade as part of his "Student With A Goal" SWAG Tour.