Jayne: Seahawks' Sherman is reminder that people are complex

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

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photoGreg Jayne, Opinion page editor

Richard Sherman was running around like an over-caffeinated ferret, giving high-fives, soaking in the cheers, reveling in his status as one of the best players in the National Football League.

Last Sunday? The moments after the Seattle Seahawks clinched a trip to the Super Bowl? Nah, this was last summer, and it happened during a Seahawks Fan Fest at Big Al's in Vancouver. Sherman was introduced to the crowd, and he proceeded to race around the large banquet room, slapping hands with seemingly everybody in the place.

I thought about that last week. I thought about that when Sherman instantaneously became one of the most famous, most discussed, most vilified athletes in the country. You know the story by now — Sherman made a key play that clinched the Seahawks' victory over the San Francisco 49ers, and then he transformed into a pro wrestling heel. "I was making sure everybody knew (Michael) Crabtree was a mediocre receiver," he said with an angry tone and a glowering expression. "And when you try the best corner in the game with a mediocre receiver, that's what happens."

Some people had a problem with this, and many of them used the magic of Twitter to spew blatantly racist tripe or question Sherman's lineage. But I thought back to that afternoon in Vancouver, because the moment Sherman started running around Big Al's, I learned something about him.

You see, not long before that, I had spent an hour or two with Sherman at the Camas home of Staff Sgt. John Kaiser and his family. The Seahawks, during their preseason promotional caravan around the state, had made it a point to visit wounded warriors in each city. That is how Sherman, fellow cornerback Brandon Browner, two members of the Sea Gals dance team, mascot Blitz, and a couple of guys from the public-relations staff ended up in Camas, with me tagging along.

Sherman, who already had a reputation as one of the biggest trash-talkers in the NFL, was just as gracious and humble as you would hope he would be in that setting. An hour later in front of hundreds of fans, he was just as brash and intense and mouthy as you would hope he would be in that setting. I'm not saying he deserves brownie points for being nice to a family in Camas; I'm saying he is somebody who can adjust better than most to whatever the occasion requires. I'm saying that his sense for the moment was evident even during a quiet afternoon in Vancouver.

People are oxymorons

This is, after all, a 25-year-old who came out of Compton, Calif., and earned a degree from Stanford University. This is, after all, a man who told insufferable ESPN host Skip Bayless during an on-air interview, "I'm better at life than you" — perhaps the truest statement ever uttered on ESPN.

And in the days after his nationally televised rant about Michael Crabtree, Sherman held a press conference in which he thoughtfully talked about being called a thug: "The reason it bothers me is because it seems like it's an accepted way of calling somebody the N-word now. It's like everybody else said the N-word and then they say 'thug' and that's fine. It kind of takes me aback and it's kind of disappointing.

"I know some 'thugs,' and they know I'm the furthest thing from a thug. I've fought that my whole life, just coming from where I'm coming from. Just because you hear Compton, you hear Watts, you hear cities like that, you just think 'thug, he's a gangster, he's this, that, and the other,' and then you hear Stanford, and they're like, 'oh man, that doesn't even make sense, that's an oxymoron.' "

Yes, Richard Sherman is a bit of an oxymoron. Most people are a bit of an oxymoron. Be it somebody in sports or politics or entertainment or the barber down the street, people are far too complex to be boxed in by nifty little stereotypes.

That is what I thought of when I watched Richard Sherman on national TV — that he is a fascinating person in a high-profile profession. And that he makes the world a whole lot more interesting.