Can John John channel his inner-Richard Sherman this year? We hope so.

Can John John channel his inner-Richard Sherman this year? We hope so.


The Inertia

If you haven’t seen Richard Sherman’s post-game interview with Erin Andrews from seconds after the Seattle Seahawks beat the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship, do yourself a favor. Watch it. Right now.

You’re welcome.

This had me smiling ear to ear. I didn’t watch it live. I don’t even really watch football except when it’s forced upon me by my friends. I’d almost always rather be in the ocean on Sundays or just spending that precious 3-hours being self-involved like usual.

But not after Richard Sherman’s post-game interview. That got me interested. Because it was raw. Unscripted. (I think.) Honest. And the earnestness with which Erin Andrews asks, “Who was talking about you?” is brilliantly hilarious.

Point is: It got people talking, and I think that’s as much as you can ask of a professional athlete in a post-game interview. The conversations that followed represent the full potential of a veritable media orgasm.

Talented, Arrogant, and Black: Richard Sherman and the Plight of the Conquering Negro

Dumb People Say Stupid, Racist Shit about Richard Sherman

Richard Sherman Is Right; Thug is the New N Word

Richard Sherman Is a Bad Trash Talker, Not a Thug

How Richard Sherman Became America’s Newest Thug

Richard Sherman Explains What People Mean When They Call Him a Thug

That’s just a representative sample of the gift-wrapped, thought-provoking headlines that have appeared around the Internet in the past week. From Gawker to Huffington Post to Deadspin to CNN to the Boston Globe, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure it lit up your Facebook news feed the same way it did mine. People have opinions about this. Strong ones.

And it’s glorious.

Sometimes it takes an arrogant, impassioned Stanford graduate from Compton to kick the apathy right out of American consciousness. Kick it! Kick it again!

Zealous reporters painted his outburst with shades of racism. More measured pundits predictably exposed their bigotry. Then they dug into Sherman’s past. They made his early graduation from Stanford a chest-beating nod to not judge a book by its cover. They unveiled his blue collar upbringing. They uncovered emails from his freshman college dormitory. They examined who he is more closely, because the outburst required further scrutiny. That’s the highest compliment an athlete can receive from a news cycle fixated on the superficial.

When the eyes of the world watch football (or sport) for entertainment, they deserve entertainment. Richard Sherman, knowingly or not, provided that in its greatest form. What’s more, he ignited insightful discussion among Americans far and wide about important topics. His raw, emotional outburst challenged people to examine their own beliefs about race in America, grace, etiquette, entitlement, stereotypes – the whole gamut. We should be thanking him for that. It wasn’t a war that opened up meaningful dialog. Or a public policy issue like immigration or health care. Nope. It was just a dude who’s worked very hard at his sport who vindicated a personal vendetta and threw it in his nemesis’ face by yelling into a microphone. Pretty harmless stuff. News organizations should DEFINITELY be thanking him. But the general public too. Because he gave everyone something interesting to discuss for two weeks.

Surfing (and all professional sports) could learn something from this.

I would love to watch John John Florence rip the microphone from GT’s hands at Pipeline after claiming the Triple Crown, grab the camera, stare square into the lens and ask where Kolohe is now before dropping the mic into the sand and pushing the camera out of his face. Ask if Dane had enough t-shirt scribbles and teen angst surf films to last him for another decade. John John couldn’t keep track while weaving through another buzzer beating Backdoor death trap. Too busy winning.

Not to say I don’t value sportsmen. I do. Honestly, I much prefer them. That’s why I love Greg Long and Kelly Slater. But I also appreciate entertainment.

To that end, I’d love for more athletes (and surfers) to boldly champion outlandish causes after they win titles. Then we could search through their college emails (if they went to college) and get to know them better. The highest form of flattery. And Richard Sherman’s interview evolved into an American race discussion, because much of America is still racist and Richard Sherman is black. Aside from tensions between Brazilians and Hawaiians, the World Tour isn’t quite so socio-politically explosive, so we would need to force those issues into the dialog.

IE: I would like to overhear one of the following hypothetical conversations in the lineup after Snapper:

Man, that’s messed up that Kelly Slater thinks America should more openly embrace Communism, because self interest and greed have openly and ironically destroyed the fabric of our nation.

Dude, did Joel Parkinson really say that abortion is the same as murdering your neighbor after he comboed Taj in the final? That’s crazy. Would you be okay with your girl having an abortion?

I had no idea that Mick Fanning’s uncle was gay and nearly committed suicide as a kid from homophobic bullying. Crazy how boldly he believes in gay marriage. What do you think of gay marriage, bro?

That would be fun. Uninteresting people would say, “Just do what you’re paid to do: Surf and keep your mouth shut.” Interesting people would not. They’d mull it over and discuss with their friends because athletes they admire expressed strong opinions about important issues when the spotlight shone brightest. And, in that case, everyone wins.

The athlete is more relevant. Suddenly, he has substance and opinions. And new endorsements – arguably making him a more attractive investment than ever before. Ask Dustin Barca about this phenomenon. The public has meaningful conversations that challenge their beliefs. The media gets to turn it over as only the media can. The sport becomes a focal point like never before.

So there’s my challenge to the winner of the Quik Pro this March when the ASP fires back up again. When you get a mic shoved in your face and you’re tempted to brush it off with a dull, apathetic platitude, think better of it. If you’re not sure what outlandish cause to champion yet, I’m happy to build out a detailed campaign full of shocking, thoughtful messages that are guaranteed to keep you relevant for years to come. I’ve got lots of ideas.

I think it was Bonnie Raitt who said it best: Let’s give ‘em something to talk about. Thanks in advance.

  • Andrew Bennett

    Look what happened to Bobby Martinez when he spoke his mind… kicked off the tour.

    I completely agree with you though, I want to see unfiltered surfers, not the surfing version of a NASCAR driver

  • cazart

    This from the same industry that treated Christian Fletcher like he’d butt-raped the Statue of Liberty.

  • http://magiccarpetslide.blogspot.com rob dougherty

    Zach, I think your perspective reflects the fact that you don’t watch a lot of football (or other sports I assume) because, if you did, you’d be grateful surfing isn’t like other sports.

    Richard Sherman’s interview would’ve made a pro wrestler blush. Isn’t arrogance like Sherman’s the reason why so many American surfers hate or resent Brazilians? Because they’re brash and disrespectful? Hell, isn’t that why so many Europeans hate Americans?!

    You say you liked his interview because it got people talking. But shouldn’t the conversations taking place be about the game rather than the personalities? Sherman’s not bigger than the game. No one is. I too would like to see surfing become a focal point but not because of assholes shooting their mouths off. Let it be for the reasons we’re seeing currently: amazing surfing, dream locations, big waves, big airs, etc. Surfing is more popular than ever. We don’t need it to be polarizing. I suspect Rabbit Bartholomew, Garrett McNamara and more recently Laird Hamilton (following his comments about Maya Gabeira), among others, can attest to that.

    And if I’m reading your article correctly, you’re linking Dustin Barca with Richard Sherman because they’re both controversial for their opinions. If I was Dustin Barca or Mark Healey, who you profiled for speaking out about Monsanto and GMOs, I’d be offended. Apples and Oranges, my friend. They were/are raising awareness through peaceful protest and education. Sherman’s soapboxing on racism was a convenient contingency plan. I am by no means condoning racism or questioning whether it still exists – it most certainly does and must not – but let’s face facts: Sherman acted like an asshole, he was verbally attacked by racists for being an asshole (they’re clearly not related as assholes come in all shapes and colors), and only then did the conversation become one of substance (race). While the conversation’s pivot to racism detracted from the fact that Sherman is an asshole, he was a day late and a dollar short. Ten years from now, no one will remember Richard Sherman for being a champion of equality or for being a great pass defender. Instead, most will remember him for being an asshole.

    With respect to endorsements, you’re just plain wrong that controversial athletes can/will attract endorsements. Ever heard of Tiger Woods? After his TMZ moment, most of society decided he was an asshole followed by many of his sponsors. The result? His net worth took a monstrous hit. Most pro surfers don’t have nearly the financial runway that Tiger Woods has/once had. If surfers lose their endorsements, it’s game over.

    Looking beyond the money, what will Tiger’s legacy be? What about other assholes? What will their legacy be? Bill Laimbeer is coaching women’s basketball, Terrell Owens, Mike Tyson and Dennis Rodman are mocking themselves — for money. We’ll have to wait and see about ARod and Lance Armstrong. Compare all of these ass clowns to some other great athletes: Jerry Rice, Barry Sanders, Michael Jordan, Cal Ripken, Jr., Wayne Gretzky and, yes, Kelly Slater. What will their legacies be? Up to this point, I know their legacies won’t be tarnished by their behavior in front of a camera.

    Zach, you jumped on this bandwagon because the news agencies did. But news agencies aren’t in the news business, they’re in the entertainment business. Surfing’s entertainment is in the waves and what surfers do on those waves. While surfing has plenty of assholes (you’ll find them at every break), we don’t need to give them a microphone. It will do more harm than good.

    • TheInertia

      Rob,

      Thanks for the thoughtful, well-reasoned response. I really appreciate it. I think there’s a lot of truth there, but I stand by what I wrote, and would love to expound upon a few points.

      1) Sherman was definitely a jerk in that interview. I, personally, am not a fan of unsportsmanlike behavior. I don’t respect it, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching it and even more enjoyed the divisive commentary that followed among friends and strangers. Aside from being entertaining, I honestly believe that conversations like those enable growth and evolution in society. And I think the benefits of the massive amount of communication that ensued far exceed the negatives created by his unsportsmanlike conduct. Despite the harm done from kids modeling after his poor behavior, I think we’re net positive on account of that outburst.

      I think a shortcoming of my piece is that Sherman ignited that discussion entirely by accident. Wasn’t a calculated motion. I failed to mention that just by virtue of being a jerk something unexpectedly good came of it. So, in essence, I’m encouraging that we learn something from the event as a whole – rather than just from Richard Sherman as an individual.

      My thinking is that we can be more calculated about inspiring productive conversations (and entertaining in the process) during moments where massive attention is thrust upon athletes in instances where the conversation focuses exclusively on sport – which, altogether, is pretty unimportant. Throw a cog in the post-game interview wheel every so often with something out of left field. Something of substance. That would be entertaining, unexpected and useful. Everyone wins.

      Maybe, I got a bit carried away with the John John hypothetical, but, by the same token, I’d argue that flashes of brash/bold/disrespectful behavior account for a substantial portion of the legacy that outlives Andy Irons. His public disdain for Kelly and irreverent attitude gave him a public persona that will not be soon forgotten. Yes, he was immensely talented in the water, but conversations about Andy have always been in two parts: his talent and his brash persona. So in that respect, again, I disagree that the stage upon which professional surfers perform remains in the confines of the ocean. It’s simply not the case. I wouldn’t want it to be.

      And Barca is invoked because he is a perfect example of the idea proposed: a surfer who exponentially increased his relevance by passionately championing an idea or movement. I guarantee you that his reach has expanded tenfold since he took up GMOs as a cause. We have all benefitted as a result of his extracurricular pursuit. He’s more interesting. And his cause is worth discussing.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. Great writing. We’d love to have you contribute to the site. Shoot us an email at info@Theinertia.com and we’ll make it happen if you’re interested. – Zach

  • Jeff Byrnes

    Not gonna agree with this. It works in football but it’s a total disaster in surfing. No one wants to share a lineup with someone this brash and in-your-face.

    And that’s the core difference between surfing and every other sport: you actually have a pretty good chance of playing on the same “field” as the sport’s top performers. It may be the reason why they are more humble when compared to pro ballers and other paid athletes. Most pro surfers still live in the same neighborhoods they grew up in as well whereas pro ballers generally get as far from their more humble origins as they possibly can while extolling the “virtues” of conspicuous consumption. Do this in surfing and the respect people have for you will plummet faster than a lead-finned rhino chaser going over the falls on a 20 footer at Waimea.

    I do agree that the majority of pro surfers’ interviews are as boring to witness as a Doheny surf check in 30 knot onshores but that has more to do with their reading habits (or total lack thereof). The ASP should make every guy and gal on tour read copious amounts of the likes of Hunter S. Thompson, Bukowski, Tom Robbins, Dave Parmenter, et al. That would juice the synapses and get them thinking and, more importantly, talking in ways that would be much more engaging/entertaining.

    Pro surfers (and most surfers, period) are decidedly one dimensional, even when they play at their pretensions of artistry and musicianship. It’s the downside of what is a predominantly escapist, sensualist culture. There’s just too little incentive to stretch the mind. The hipster nonsense is more facade than fundamental, which makes the surfing iteration of the fad the most obvious peripheral novelty of the movement, the originators of which (like all originators) have long since moved on from.

    Pro surfing does need more color in its characters but not Sherman’s brand of it. That would be the very epitome of one step forward, two steps back.