NEWARK, N.J. — Inside the arena the New Jersey Devils call home, in a dented city that elicits a more ghoulish gut reaction than Hell’s Kitchen, the great Luciferian orator sat before the media horde.
Surely, he wore the ball cap to conceal his horns and gray Nikes to hide his cloven hooves.
As he perched in a director’s chair, the eager messengers surrounding him craned their necks to get a look, tilted their heads to hear what the menace – this pockmark of society – would decree this time.
And then, get this, he smiled. And playfully winked a couple times. And made eye contact as he listened to questions, sometimes rising from his chair to come closer so he could hear a reporter’s question above the Prudential Center din.
Richard Sherman’s lips did not spit flames. His words didn’t singe the skin or curdle sensibilities.
The notorious Seattle Seahawks cornerback was charming, respectful and rather elegant Tuesday morning at Super Bowl XLVIII Media Day.
Sherman showed he’s not a villain because of a 20-second, dreadlock-flailing rant that brought him immediate infamy nine days ago.
No, Sherman is not evil incarnate for daring to call himself the best in the world or for saying the receiver he’d been guarding was inferior.
Moments before Fox Sports sideline reporter Erin Andrews put a microphone under his black beard, Sherman made the game-sealing play to snuff the San Francisco 49ers and advance to the biggest of games.
The world was aghast an athlete fresh from an emotional play in an emotional game would be emotional.
On Tuesday, a half hour before he arrived on the Prudential Center floor, dozens of cameramen and reporters jammed elbow to hip around his podium to hear what he would say. Sherman showed up early.
“Whatever you got,” he said to the crowd of reporters before him as he sat down.
Portrayals of Sherman over the past week have been unfair. When he publicly trashed 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree, opinions erupted like volcanoes.
Sherman was decried as a poor sport. He was called a punk, a thug and other terms tinged with furtive racism.
Meanwhile, off in a corner, sullen Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch stood there, a mute. That’s when Lynch wasn’t trying to hide behind a curtain backdrop. Lynch wore sunglasses and a ball cap. He pulled a hood over his head and brooded during and after six minutes of pointless Q&A. The NFL might fine Lynch for his behavior.
Go figure: one football player punished for talking too much and a teammate for not talking enough.
Lost amid Sherman’s postgame sound blast and all the vitriol it caused over the past week was perspective. Social media was awash in absurd reactions.
“You really are taken aback by understanding that people had time to contemplate their answers, to think about it, to thoroughly understand the message they were putting out there and that was the message they put out there, and that was the message they put out there,” Sherman said.
Sherman, the son of a Los Angeles garbage man, grew up in Compton, Calif., and earned a communications degree from Stanford. The goal of his Blanket Coverage Foundation “is to help as many kids as possible have adequate school supplies and clothes.”
“The more people look, I’m sure the more they’ll see I’m trying to do what I can to help this world,” Sherman said. “The more people see that, the less they’ll judge off 20 seconds of rant.”
He’s thoughtful and intelligent enough to have realized he shouldn’t have been so pompous in victory. He expressed regret about that again Tuesday and said he wished more-deserving teammates were getting the attention instead. But Sherman deserved the platform to reverse some of the damage his reputation has suffered. He had the chance to explain himself, to lament the character profiling he has experienced, to dismiss some of the comparisons he’s uncomfortable with.
Sherman’s bravado has been likened to Muhammad Ali’s bluster. Ali is one of Sherman’s idols.
“All of the serious ridicule he went through, all the serious racial degradation and stigmas that he had to fight against,” Sherman said, “he had to really stand his ground. He went to jail to stand up for what he believed. His situation was a lot more grave than my situation.”
And if there ever was a stage to remind sports fans and pundits to chillax over Sherman’s mini-tirade, Super Bowl Media Day was the place.
Super Bowl Media Day is a gong show, an event that underscores the truth that sports are a diversion. Players such as Sherman provide entertainment to distract us from real life. He’s a brilliant character.
“Entertainment Tonight,” “The Insider” and HLN had questions. He was probed for thoughts on Justin Bieber, money management and his celebrity crush. Somebody wanted to know what Seattle rapper Macklemore is really like.
Sherman was asked a grand total of two X-and-O football questions.
Children with the chance to be reporters for a day asked advice for doing better in school. He was asked about his biggest pet peeve. A woman asked him for a hug.
Sherman obliged them all as best he could and demonstrated he’s not a demon for actually saying some words that athletes think when they’re competing for a championship.
“People start to realize those stereotypes come along with a person that looks like me,” Sherman said. “People are trying to get past it, try to break those walls down.
“Get to know people before you pass judgment.”
When the interview session was supposed to have concluded, Sherman entertained a few more questions before security led him away. Yes, he arrived early and left late.
He didn’t disappear in a puff of smoke. There was no sulfur smell in his wake.