By Aaron Leibowitz
The national conversation leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl has been all about the Patriots’ integrity. Did they deflate footballs before their AFC Championship Game against the Colts? Could the cold weather (51 degrees) have caused the footballs to deflate, as head coach Bill Belichick suggested? Is quarterback Tom Brady a cheater? How, even, does air work?
Richard Sherman did not address any of these questions during his Super Bowl media session on Sunday. He did not explain how air works — we’ve got Bill Nye for that — and he did not speculate on what the Patriots did or didn’t do. Instead, he shifted the conversation. Amid all the madness, the Seahawks cornerback for whom this blog is named dropped a truth bomb.
And just like that, everything became clear.
Talking to reporters in Phoenix, Sherman shed light on the “conflict of interest” inherent when the NFL is tasked with investigating the Patriots’ alleged wrongdoings and determining an appropriate punishment. Sherman said:
“Will they be punished? Probably not. Not as long as [Patriots owner] Robert Kraft and [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell are still taking pictures [together] at their respective homes. [Goodell] was just at Kraft’s house last week before the AFC Championship. Talk about conflict of interest. As long as that happens, it won’t affect them at all.”
It’s true: Goodell was at Kraft’s house the day before the AFC Championship. Deadspin has the photo. And, yes, Goodell and Kraft are BFFs. A recent GQ profile on Goodell quotes an NFL executive referring to Kraft as “the assistant commissioner.” That’s how much sway Bob Kraft has on Roger Goodell.
Given that the NFL hasn’t even spoken to Brady in its investigation — and that Brady doesn’t expect that conversation to happen until after the Super Bowl — it’s safe to assume the league has no plans to levy any serious punishments anytime soon.
On Monday, Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer reported a leak that the league has “zeroed in” on a Pats’ locker room attendant who is now considered a “person of interest” in its investigation. Serious stuff.
At this point, it would not be a great leap to surmise that the Patriots have indeed made a habit of under-inflating footballs; that several teams complained about it; that the NFL finally decided to take action after the AFC Championship game to prove they care about the rules; that BFFs Goodell and Kraft devised a plan to dump all the blame on some poor equipment manager; and that the Patriots will walk off relatively unscathed.
That scenario is much easier to imagine in light of Sherman’s comments. With everyone focused on air pressure and balls and science and Brady and Belichick, Sherman did a 180: Why, he asked, would we ever trust the NFL to handle this situation responsibly and honestly? Why would we trust the amoral NFL to police morality?
(On a related note, Dan Wetzel at Yahoo Sports asks important questions about why the NFL, given reports that other teams had raised concerns about the Patriots using under-inflated balls, didn’t bring the issue to the Pats’ attention before the AFC Championship game. Did the league run a “sting operation” at the expense of the game’s competitive balance?)
Last week, Sherman also had some wisdom to impart regarding Tom Brady. He said:
“I think people get a skewed view of Tom Brady, that he’s just a clean-cut, does-everything-right (guy), and never says a bad word to anyone, and we [the Seahawks] know him to be otherwise.”
Sherman was asked about an incident in 2012, when Seattle defeated the Patriots in New England and Sherman confronted Brady after the game — and later tweeted an image of the confrontation with the caption, “U MAD BRO?” On Sunday, Sherman explained what went down:
“[Brady] was pretty much saying that we were nobodies and that we should come up to him after they get the win. … In that moment of him being himself, he said some things and we returned the favor. Unfortunately, he apparently didn’t remember what he said.”
Again, Sherman was on point. Brady is a relentless trash-talker, as his teammate and former division rival Darrelle Revis confirmed earlier this season. Here’s how Revis described Brady: “He has that chip on his shoulder”; “He plays to destroy you”; “Tom will engage in those type of [trash-talking] situations”; “I’ve never seen a guy, in all my years playing sports, somebody being as competitive as him.”
Tom Brady gets a reputation as fiery, competitive, classy, straight-edge. Richard Sherman, a trash-talker of similar proportions, gets called classless; a thug; an instigator; a player who likes to “stir the pot.” Though Sherman didn’t explicitly say it, that’s what racial bias sounds like.
Over the past few years, Sherman has mastered the art of calling out double standards and shifting conversations. After his epic postgame interview with Erin Andrews last January, thousands of trolls and TV commentators used the word “thug” to describe him. Sherman’s response? “Thug” has become “the accepted way of calling somebody the n-word.”
In April, when the Eagles cut wide receiver DeSean Jackson amid reports of “gang ties,” Sherman pointed out the hypocrisy of a league that punishes Jackson while letting off racist receiver Riley Cooper and drunk-driving, drug-carrying Colts owner Jim Irsay basically scot-free after more serious indiscretions. He wrote for MMQB.com:
“Commit certain crimes in this league and be a certain color, and you get help, not scorn. Look at the way many in the media wrote about Jim Irsay after his DUI arrest. Nobody suggested the Colts owner had ‘ties’ to drug trafficking, even though he was caught driving with controlled substances (prescription pills) and $29,000 in cash to do who-knows-what with. Instead, poor millionaire Mr. Irsay needs help, some wrote. But DeSean Jackson is the menace, right?”
And who can forget this past November, when Sherman and teammate Doug Baldwin put on a press conference sketch show exposing the absurdity of the NFL’s media policy. The league had fined Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch $100,000 for failing to speak with reporters, so Sherman pointed out that Lynch would not have been paid anywhere near that amount had he complied.
Then, Sherman jokingly plugged his sponsors — Beats By Dre and Campbell’s Soup — to take a jab at the NFL’s policy banning players from displaying non-NFL sponsors before or after games. He even snuck in a shot at the league for its lack of regard for player safety. It was brilliant.
When the NFL punishes players for not talking to the media, Richard Sherman talks about the league’s reckless decision to schedule two games in five days. When social media explodes over a post-game interview, Richard Sherman talks about racially coded language.
And when the world freaks out about deflated balls, Richard Sherman draws attention to the high-level conflict of interest at the heart of the matter.
He refocuses the discussion. He speaks truth. May he never stop.