A dream of many an American youth is to play in the Super Bowl. Making that dream bigger is the idea of making the play that gives your team that opportunity. The odds against that dream becoming a reality are infinitesimal. But that’s exactly what happened last Sunday to a player on the Seattle Seahawks in their NFL championship game against the San Francisco 49ers. With his team winning by six points and time running out their conference rivals were driving for the winning touchdown. A corner back, he was defending against what some consider a premier receiver. The quarterback lets the ball fly, the receiver waits in the end zone to catch what would be the game winning pass but the defensive back leaps and deflects the ball to a team mate for an interception. An athletic and heroic play. Game over. Super Bowl here we come.
Yes, he made a historic play and yes, his team is Super Bowl bound as a result – but that is not what makes Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman this Friday’s fearless brand.
While fearless brands are authentic and fully embrace their competencies and passion – they certainly aren’t perfect.
Richard Sherman has been in the spotlight since that play but for reasons other than his game heroics. Just minutes after the end of the game and an incident with the receiver, Erin Andrews, the network sideline reporter, grabbed Sherman for an interview. The live session quickly became a rant by Sherman proclaiming himself the best at his position in the NFL, denigrating the receiver he was covering and more.
What viewers saw was an athlete at the height of passion, adrenalin pulsing, in the middle of a dream-come-true performance spewing a testosterone-fueled self-focused diatribe. Sherman was certainly brash and over the top. Clearly it was not a typical post-game interview – it wasn’t an interview at all. Within seconds Twitter, Facebook and all of social media was blowing up with comments about Sherman. Unsportsmanlike. Classless. Ignorant. Angry. Thug.
Is that truly Richard Sherman? Do those words accurately reflect his personal brand? The answer is quite simply yes – and no. Many people believe that most of those descriptors are true – and they are, but only for moments in time. They certainly do not define the man nor his brand but they do reiterate a basic tenet of branding….If you don’t manage your own brand – someone else will.
Richard Sherman is a fearless brand – authentic, honest, confident, relevant – convicted in his value proposition. He is intelligent, driven, well-spoken and caring – his Blanket Coverage Foundation has donated thousands of dollars’ worth of clothes, presents and supplies to the needy. Sherman was born and raised in Compton, by all accounts a truly tough place to live and grow up. Gangs, drugs, violence. Sherman eschewed all of that and was determined to be successful in school and beyond. He was the Salutatorian in his high school graduating class (that means he ranked second – I had to look it up :)). He went to Stanford University, graduated with a degree in communication. With a year of college eligibility left he returned for his final year and began his Masters studies.
So how does a man like this get labeled a classless punk and thug? Part of it is certainly his brash actions and trash talk on -and off of – the football field. Part of it are his slights to opponents – whether real or perceived . Part of it is likely that he has dreadlocks, tattoos, plays a vicious sport and is black. Some of it is deserved but much of it is driven by people rushing to judgement with partial information.
His comments to the receiver, Michael Crabtree were “Helluva game! Helluva game!” Whether a genuine compliment after a hard fought battle or a taunt can be debated. The timing of the comment coupled with the pat on Crabtree’s behind were probably ill-advised. His post-game rant was also ill advised. He took the spotlight away from his team – their effort, their team victory – and placed it on himself. For that he has apologized.
The rant has fueled a massive debate and is having an impact on the brand – Richard Sherman. His actions opened the door to this controversy. He could have – and arguably should have – managed his brand and his emotions better. Fewer people would now be doing their best to manage his brand.
On the other hand, he may just be ‘dumb like a fox’. Sherman may know exactly what he is doing. He is considered one of the very best at his position and is talked about by the media, other players and fans much more than the average player. His jersey ranked in the top 10 in sales for all NFL players before his recent firestorm. Trash talking is common in sports. Some of the greatest athletes of all times were masters of it – Mohammed Ali and Michael Jordan to name just two. Sherman did not curse once in his rant and he maintained eye contact with the camera the entire time. Did you read the part about him earning a communications degree from Stanford?
What do you think? Which Richard Sherman do you see? An American success or a classless thug? Leave your comments…I would love to hear different views.
What I believe is that Sherman is living the dream right now. He is also learning and maturing in life as we all hope to. I believe he will remain authentic, honest, confident and consistent – after all, as I see it – he is a fearless brand.