Richard Sherman Is on the Offensive

The Seattle corner’s trash-talking and playmaking has put him center stage. He likes it that way.

Football fans already knew about Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman’s lockdown defense when a rant at the end of the N.F.C. championship made him the subject of kitchen debates leading into the thrashing that was Super Bowl XLVIII. Rather than lowering his profile in the off-season, the 26-year-old spoke about race at the Harvard Business School, met the President, mounted a successful campaign to be the cover model for Madden NFL 15, and signed a deal with Campbell’s Soup that will pay him more than $57 million through the 2018 season. He’s the new “Mama’s Boy” and – let’s not understate his ubiquity – the new face of the NFL.

Sherman spoke to MAXIM about his reputation (why it matters and why it doesn’t), the rise of Johnny Manziel, the teams he thinks could threaten the Seahawks, and, inevitably, Michael Crabtree.

Not to be indelicate, but you’ve had a hell of a year. How does it feel to have become rich and famous?

Pretty much the same. That’s the only way you can play the game, is to stay exactly the same as the way you’ve been. Obviously it takes a little bit of financial pressure off of you, it helps your family a little bit, their bills and the stresses they have to deal with in their lives. But in terms of playing the game and dealing with that, it’s all the same. You go out there and play as hard as you can for as long as you can and let the chips fall where they may. You play with a chip on your shoulder and go out there to win ball games. Until it’s time to hang up the cleats, that’s the way I’ll play it.

Unlike most athletes, you seem to take pride in trash talking. How do you feel about being the star of so many viral videos?

I don’t think that a lot of people are honest in this world. So a lot of people will go with the cliché answer. It gets bland. And sometimes people want some authenticity and some transparency and I guess I give them that. Good, bad or indifferent, transparency is what I give them. You’re going to know where I stand. And I enjoy knowing where other people stand, whether you love or hate me, you don’t sit in the middle.

Muhammad Ali may have had the same thought.

That’s who I was going for man. That’s who I looked up to. And I appreciated his genuine transparent attitude and his disregard for people’s opinion, and that he felt like he was doing it his way and making a positive impact. And he actually did. And not everybody can see that. Not everybody can persevere through that kind of adversity and stay focused on the goal that they have and their dream and doing it the way they see fit to do it.

Do you think that there are a lot of people who know you just because you yelled who don’t care about football? Does that concern you?

Yeah, I don’t mind. Football is a violent game. It’s a very violent and exciting and loud game. And that’s OK. On the field, you can know me as a football player. I don’t think I have any problem with that. Football is that kind of game. Now off the field, if you think you know me off the field, that’s when you have illusions.

After everyone got tired of being offended by your rant about Michael Crabtree, all the talking heads started in about how you’re this bright guy who went to Stanford. How much of the overall reaction do you think had to do with race?

Quite a bit of it. And I think they tried to – you know, I don’t know – kind of quell everybody down by saying, “He went to Stanford.” First it was: “Thug. He’s this, that and the other.” Then all of a sudden: “He went to Stanford—and that makes it all better.” I think that was an interesting subject of discussion because what does that say? Does that change my social class or my race or the way I’m viewed, because I went to Stanford? Or were you guys just viewing it wrong in the first place? I think that discussion should still be had because the judgment that people pass on individuals throughout the world, on stereotypes and things that place upon individuals, is something misguided.

A kid can’t choose where they were raised, where they grow up, obviously they can only make decisions that they can control. Once they’re raised in Compton, or Bronx, New York, or South Side, Chicago, or wherever they’re raised, they can only do their best to counter those stereotypes and become a good, contributing member of society. But that doesn’t change people’s view on them. So I think people should hold judgment until they meet people. I think if you go around generalizing and stereotyping people that you miss out on a lot of good people in this world.

So you don’t run up to strangers in the street and scream, “You mad bro?”

No, not really. [Laughs.] Maybe on a holiday? No—not really on a holiday.

Do people run up to you saying things?

All the time.

What do they say to you most frequently?

“Crabtree!” They don’t egg me on; they just say it. I met the guy [Harry Styles] from One Direction. We have the same agent and I just happened to walk in when they were on FaceTime. He turned the camera and he said, “Crabtree!”

Marijuana is now legal in Washington, but prohibited by the NFL, so I’m curious. Do you think the NFL should change its marijuana policy?

I don’t think they should change anything that’s working. Until the rest of the world changes it, you know—if it’s illegal, it’s illegal. And when it becomes legal, I’m sure it will be legal in the league. The league pretty much goes as the world goes. Obviously if it’s not legal in the world, it’s not legal in the league. But the league keeps apparently coming up with problems with it, so I’m sure they will do something about that because it just doesn’t look good to have all these guys getting in trouble for it.

How do you think Johnny Manziel will do in the league?

I think he’s going to be fine. Just the way he’s dealt with all this – obviously they’re running him through the mud right now – he’s dealt with it admirably. Obviously I can’t say what activities he’s condoning, but I think the way he’s handled it has been great. That’s the only way you can do it, to survive in this game. He hasn’t even played a down and they’re dragging him through the mud and putting him through a ringer. He’s just, water off a duck’s back. And that will serve him very well in this league. That’s what he’s doing: success and failure, neither one of them are permanent.

Which team other than the Seahawks is the team to beat this year?

Denver’s going to be there. Obviously anytime you still got Tom Terrific out there, New England’s going to be in the fight. And they made some great additions—both teams, on the defensive side of the ball. Obviously San Fran is going to be in that fight. I think San Diego’s going to be a team to be reckoned with. They have a good defense and played Denver pretty tight last year.

Is there a team that didn’t get that far last year that this year is going to play a lot better?

Cincinnati. They’re defense. Anytime you have good defense that’s disruptive and creates turnovers, that’s a roll of the dice. They get to the quarterback and create a couple of fumbles and things like that, a game can swing like that. Against a really great team in the playoffs, Cincinnati’s that kind of team.

Photos by Araya Diaz / WireImage